Life Lessons

Authenticity Is Your Now

Authenticity is not a fixed point on a map. It’s fluid, much like your identity, and shifts over the course of your life.

It’s easier to trick yourself into believing the feel-good advice that your voice comes from a sudden revelation. You just have to wait for that moment. And once you’ve found it, the entire picture comes into focus and remains that way for life.

But authenticity is found through fragments. It evolves over time. It’s a moving target that falls out of focus and can be lost to the chaos of life.

Authenticity is less about identifying a singular purpose and voice that should define your entire life. It’s about finding and trusting your voice today. In other words, embracing the impermanence of your identity, knowing that it can and will change.

How you live your life–your interests, principles, and priorities–will evolve over time. As you grow, you’ll add depth to your voice. If you remain the same for too long, that’s when you know you’ve stopped learning or are clinging to an expired version of yourself.

It’s easy to get caught up in the expectations you hold for yourself or that others project upon you– who you should be, where you have been. If you fuel these doubts, you can opt out of the unknown and find comfort in your plateau. But you won’t grow through the familiar, and you won’t find alignment.

Your sense of authenticity–your now–is something that’s all your own. It’s discovered, developed, and deepened, by the obstacles you face, the uncertainties you navigate, and the inspiration you find along the way.

If you want to create something that matters–to both yourself and others–you have to create from where you currently are in your life. That’s how you build momentum and depth. Trust yourself.

It’s the difference between artists and entrepreneurs who get lucky once and those who sustain success over decades. If you cling to what got you there in the first place, you’ll fail to evolve and render yourself irrelevant.

Artists who reinvent themselves fight for projects that allow them to grow, stretch their abilities, and discover new things. In doing so, they create from a place that resonates with them at a single point in time.

Over the course of years, a series of single brush strokes reveals an evolving sense of authenticity.

Bob Dylan, one of history’s great songwriters, has reinvented himself time and time again throughout his career. He’s altered his voice and bridged various genres, beginning in folk, shifting towards rock, and experimenting with country and Christian albums along the way.

Five decades later we can step back and admire his trajectory–how he’s pushed himself to grow, defy expectations, and channel that into his art. Time makes this seem inevitable, as if all he had to do was fall in line with destiny. But that fails to take into account the years of criticism, outrage, and uncertainty Dylan faced.

Authenticity–creating from who you are today, despite expectations tearing you in different directions–is not for the faint of heart.

Dylan threw the folk community into a fit of rage when he “went electric.” He could have stuck with what was working and fallen in line with their expectations, but validation was never his primary motivation. He sought meaning over influence at each step of his career. As a result, he achieved exactly that–lifelong influence.

Dylan resonates with people because his songwriting tracks his own development as a human being. His songs reflect who he was–his observations, experiences, and imagination–and who he refused to be at each point in time. Dylan’s career is a master class in embracing the impermanence of identity and authenticity. The fragments of himself that he brought to life shows he understands this in a deep way.

There were a lot of better singers and better musicians around these places but there wasn’t anybody close in nature to what I was doing. Folk songs were the way I explored the universe...
— Bob Dylan

There’s no single template for finding your voice as it exists today. It’s different for each person. Legendary director, Steven Spielberg, was quite different from Dylan. Dylan had unusual depth which he developed at an early age. Spielberg developed his own sense of depth over decades.

Spielberg’s progression from Jaws (1975) to Schindler’s List (1993) demonstrates this. In those eighteen years, he grew by finding projects that spoke to him at a specific point in time. What felt authentic to him in 1965 was entirely different than 1993. That doesn’t negate his early work, he was just creating from a different place.

Spielberg’s voice evolved through his films, just as Dylan’s did through his albums. That’s why they’ve remained relevant for so many years. They’ve changed, adapted, and grown. But most importantly, both have had the courage to speak from where they were in each present moment.

Both faced criticism along the way for unpopular decisions, but that’s the irony of the whole thing. People are enraged by change, but if you stay the same you guarantee failure. You lose touch with yourself, a sense of fulfillment in your work, and a deeper connection to your audience.

Before you release your work into the wild, fight like hell to make sure it first resonates with you.

No one gets it right each time. There will be times you lose your sense of authenticity. Not even Dylan and Spielberg are immune to the chaos of life. But when the intention and awareness are there, it’s easier to rebuild and rediscover a sense of momentum.

Life is motion. Authenticity is about finding harmony in that motion.

It’s not always easy, but it’s meaningful. Allow yourself to evolve through uncertainty. When you find the courage to speak from this place, you add unusual depth and clarity to your voice. That’s what draws people in.

Start by reflecting on what resonates with you at this point in your life–experiences, interests, observations, values. Authenticity is your now. No matter where you are, trust yourself to create from who you are today.

30 Lessons for Living at Your Best by 30

Behind almost everything I’ve done in my 20s there’s been a single motivating factor–discovering what it means to live well. By living well I don’t mean extravagantly. I mean determining what I want out of life, living in a way that aligns with those values and principles, and learning in everything I do. In other words, striving to be the best version of myself.

While there will be inevitable ups and downs, no matter where you are, you want to be able to step back and see a clear upward trajectory which tracks the course of your life.

The best way to ensure this is by learning from your failures, putting in the work, and aspiring to be at your best. There will be days, weeks, even months, when things might seem to stagnate or head in the opposite direction, but you need the mental toughness to adapt and push yourself towards progress, as defined by you.

With my 30th birthday in sight, I’ve narrowed in on a few hard-fought, as well as mind-numbingly simple lessons, which have helped me establish a sense of this trajectory. I don’t presume to have all the answers. These are just the lessons that have resonated strongest with me over the past decade. Remember, there’s no “right” path, but I hope these prove useful as you find your own way.

1. Get the essentials down first

If you expect to feel good and achieve anything in your life, you need to prioritize sleep, exercise and eating well. These are the non-negotiables. You can’t neglect yourself and expect to function at a high level. This is foundational to everything else on this list.

2. Limit the number of do-overs

Don’t underestimate the power of avoiding dumb decisions. Most of the trouble that people run into is self-inflicted. There are enough obstacles ahead of you as is, don’t create extra work for yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to be brilliant in every decision you make, just avoid the big mistakes. Focus on making well-rounded, rational decisions each day, and allow compound interest to run its course.

3. There is no way things are “supposed to be”

The sooner you give up an imagined reality, the better you’ll be able to negotiate the way forward. Close the gap by differentiating between internal and external expectations and assigning each their proper weight. Prioritizing internal expectations is the path towards gratitude and self-sufficiency. External expectations introduce dependencies. Don’t place a premium on things you can’t affect.

4. Create more, consume less

What you consume doesn’t make you unique. The fact that you’re a fan of the Golden State Warriors, listen to Ed Sheeran, watch Game of Thrones, and only buy Apple products, are not unique identifiers. What you create and what you’re putting out into the world is what defines you.

5. Life is a single player game

You can’t expect to retain your sanity if you insist on comparing yourself to people heading in an entirely different direction. Measure you against you.

6. There is no substitute for true resourcefulness

One of the biggest obstacles I faced when I took my first job out of college was my inability to handle ambiguity and uncertainty. The predictability of the curriculum and instruction in school won’t do you any favors here. As it turns out, life is far more about resourcefulness than a checklist of prescribed actions. You must learn to adapt, teach yourself, and create your own momentum. There is no blueprint to walk you through every step of your life.

7. Put in the self-work

It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it. Your 20s should be a decade primarily dedicated to yourself so you can figure your shit out. Before you enter into any relationship or realize any of your aspirations–if you don’t want them to go up in flames–you need to be self-aware and self-sufficient.

8. Directions in life are mutually exclusive

For the first half of my 20s I wanted to be everything, so I was unable to commit to anything. But the earlier you cross the irrelevant off your list, the faster you’ll be able to make meaningful progress and give your complete attention to the things you can’t live without. If you’re unsure where to start, try this exercise from Warren Buffett and double down on those things.

9. JOMO (joy of missing out) > FOMO (fear of missing out)

“FOMO” is another way of saying you’re incapable of prioritizing–you want to be everything and everywhere, which is an impossibility. Once you’ve figured out what’s important to you, passing on unnecessary obligations or engagements which you’re not invested in will be a source of great satisfaction.

10. What you walk away from defines you as much as the things you stick out

Whenever you encounter a moment of self-doubt or the urge to quit, ask yourself, do you feel like quitting because it’s difficult? Or do you feel like quitting because it contradicts your character, values, or priorities? The former means you should stick it out, the latter means it’s time to call it quits.

11. Growth is nonlinear

As Nassim Taleb explains in Fooled by Randomness, nonlinear relationships are the rule, not the exception. We mistakingly believe that if two variables are causally linked, a steady input in one should result in a positive linear progression in the other. Life doesn’t work that way. You can’t always expect visible progress when comparing one day to the next. You might have to dedicate years to your craft before something clicks. Remember, it’s your overall trajectory that matters, not the noise you encounter on a daily basis. The shorter the time frame, the more variance there will be–focus on the big picture.

12. Figure out what you can sustain indefinitely

That’s what it’s going take to set yourself apart. Most people drop off at the first sign of adversity or boredom, outlast them.

13. Leverage compound interest

The power of compound interest applies to almost everything in life, not just financial investments. For most hard-working, talented people it’s just a matter of time. Years of consistently showing up, learning, and dedicating time to your craft will pay dividends. The power of small, calculated decisions, habits, and behaviors grows exponentially over time.

14. Physical endurance builds mental endurance

Most people live in fear of the slightest discomfort or inconvenience. If you’re able to practice consistently pushing yourself to the point of discomfort and sustaining at that level, you begin to build resilience. In this regard, physical endurance translates into mental toughness.

15. Lasting comfort is found by embracing discomfort

Intermittent periods of discomfort prepare you to handle a wider range of potential scenarios. This helps you expand the confines of your current comfort zone and, ultimately, experience less discomfort than those who cling to convenience and familiarity. The latter find themselves in positions of considerable vulnerability–rigid and unable to adapt. This is the paradox of comfort.

16. Stillness is the best lesson traveling will teach you

I was an insatiable traveler for most of my 20s, visiting 25 countries and four continents. The only thing I’ve found more fulfilling than travel is learning to be still and content at home. Travel, go see the world, live somewhere new–otherwise, you’ll regret it later on. But this should lay the foundation for you to find peace in your future immediate surroundings. And this is the real value of experiences gained from travel–they help you build a broader perspective and a stronger sense of identity and appreciation at home. There’s nothing more fulfilling than the sense of gratitude that comes from moments when you’re content right with being right where you are.

17. Get a dog

Very few things have had a more profound, positive impact on my life. Presence, patience, empathy, joy–a dog will remind you of these values every single day.

18. Read like your life depends on it

To quote Naval Ravikant, once, “The genuine love for reading itself, when cultivated, is a superpower. The means of learning are abundant–it’s the desire to learn that is scarce. Cultivate that desire by reading what you want.” And twice, “Reading science, math, and philosophy one hour per day will likely put you at the upper echelon of human success within seven years.” The power of compound interest applies as much to reading and building better mental models as anything else.

19. No one alive has all the right answers

Avoid the urge to overidentify and reach for absolutes. Learn to live in the gray area. That’s what separates lifelong learners from pretenders.

20. General advice > specific advice

You will encounter mentors who want to prescribe specific advice. For the most part, it’s ineffective, because there is no single path to success. You will never be able to replicate the lives of those you admire. But you can examine the systems and mental models that give them their edge. This is where you’ll find the truly valuable lessons that you can apply to your own life, direction, and decision making.

21. Avoid ideologies at all costs

As Charlie Munger suggests, “Heavy ideology is one of the most extreme distorters of human cognition.” There’s no better way to impair your own rationality and decision making. Ideologies will drive you towards confirmation bias and close-mindedness.

22. Legacy is a mirage

If you have any sense of historical perspective, you’ll realize that you won’t be remembered. The desire for legacy is narcissism in disguise. This realization should be empowering, not disheartening. It will allow you to go out and make a difference now, instead of attempting to preserve some future image of yourself when you won’t be around to reap any of its benefits.

23. “In victory, learn when to stop.”

Drifting expectations are dangerous. This is one of Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power. You have to allow yourself time to reflect on what you have and how far you’ve come. Those who refuse to come to terms with this lesson find themselves as textbook examples of hubris, brought down by the same insatiability and arrogance that led them on an accelerated, unsustainable path towards the top. This is the reason people lose fortunes, families crumble, companies self-destruct, empires fall. More is not always the answer. Know when you’ve won.

24. Money matters

In The Geometry of Wealth, Brian Portnoy explains that wealth and investing are about funding contentment and underwriting a meaningful life, as defined by you. Not about getting rich, having “more,” and losing yourself on the hedonic treadmill. There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to the impact of income on experiential happiness (around $75,000), but there is no cap on reflective happiness. Wealth is a tool to achieve freedom, self-sufficiency, and spend your time exactly how you want to.

25. You can’t have it all, but you can have what you prioritize

Don’t try to keep up with those living an extravagant lifestyle. If your goal is to fund your own contentment and underwrite a meaningful life, you need to figure out what’s most important to you. Spend money on those things, without hesitation, and invest in yourself. Live frugally and cut costs everywhere else.

26. Moderation is king

This is the single most important value no one has told you about. Avoid excess. As a society, we pride ourselves on extremes. But even our virtues, when taken too far, collapse into their opposite–crippling flaws in character. Find the golden mean.

27. Everyone is facing their own adversity

I’m reminded of this on an almost weekly basis. The carefully curated versions people project of themselves on social media don’t reflect what’s actually going on in their lives. You never know what someone’s going through or what they’ve been through. Be kind.

28. Commit to the people who share your most important values

I can’t say it better than Ray Dalio, “When you have alignment, cherish it. While there is nobody in the world who will share your point of view on everything, there are people who will share your most important values and the ways in which you choose to live them out. Make sure you end up with those people.”

29. Build a philosophy of life that works for you

Philosophy is about the art of living. It will make these lessons easier if you have a reference point that reflects your most important values and principles. For me, this is a version of Stoicism. Go out there and find one that works for you, or create your own. Whatever you do, establish one, because this adds purpose, direction, and serves as a constant reminder of what’s worth attaining in life.

30. There’s no secret to happiness, other than gratitude

The single trait that the happiest people all have in common is a profound sense of gratitude. They wake up in the morning and feel lucky, with an appreciation for life and their current position. I achieve this by reflecting on all the good things I have, worst-case scenarios, and the finer details in my immediate surroundings.


The only true failures in life are moments of apathy or defiance, when you’re unwilling to learn. Knowledge and experience count for little if you’re unable to commit them as life lessons.

Determine what you want out of life, live in a way that aligns with those values, and never stop learning. That’s what it takes if you want to discover what it means to live well and maintain an upward trajectory over the course of your life. Go out and find the lessons that resonate strongest with you.

Top 6 Books for Better Mental Models (<200 pages)

Many of the smartest minds throughout history–those who have demonstrated mastery in their respective fields and contributed something meaningful to the world–have favored a multidisciplinary approach over specialization. They’ve recognized that the more flexible and wide-ranging your mental models, the stronger your cognitive abilities, and the less rigid your thinking. At an individual level, it’s not only more effective but also more fulfilling.

A multidisciplinary approach leads to resourcefulness, ingenuity, and resilience. It better prepares you to develop each of these skills, navigate inevitable obstacles, and build your own momentum. It’s the antithesis of confining yourself to a single discipline with a shallow skill-set and isolated mental models.

In fact, the defining feature of a multidisciplinary approach is its dynamic latticework of mental models. This is achieved by broad exposure to a range of subjects, which allows you to leverage and connect the most relevant knowledge from each. By positioning yourself at the intersection of multiple disciplines, you cultivate the ability to tie together seemingly unrelated concepts in a way the vast majority are incapable of. It’s here where the most creative, innovative ideas are discovered.

Last year I wrote an article on the beginner’s guide to a multidisciplinary approach and recommended four books for building better mental models. It resonated with quite a few people who were looking for an introduction to this concept. In revisiting this theme, I’ve wanted to provide a new reading list that’s even more accessible–each book is under 200 pages.

While this is in no way comprehensive, it is my hope that this will help you begin building your own framework across multiple disciplines. If you’re up for a short read, dig in.

1) The Obstacle Is the Way — by Ryan Holiday

One of the most accessible modern introductions to Stoic philosophy. Holiday examines the inevitable obstacles we all face in life, how to better frame them as opportunities to practice virtue and harness them to create momentum of our own. He structures the book around the three interconnected disciplines required to overcome any obstacle: perception, action, and will. There’s an incredible amount of knowledge packed into these 200 pages. No matter what challenges you face or where you’re trying to go, it’s a great resource for fine tuning your attitude, strategy, and mental toughness. Inspired by Marcus Aurelius, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Talent is not the most sought-after characteristic. Grace and poise are, because these two attributes precede the opportunity to deploy any other skill.
— Ryan Holiday

2) The Geometry of Wealth—by Brian Portnoy

A look into the relationship between money and meaning. Portnoy suggests that wealth and investing are about funding contentment and underwriting a meaningful life, as defined by you. Not about getting rich, having “more,” and losing yourself on the hedonic treadmill. He explains that simplification is the path towards effectively managing expectations in money and life–and the trajectory of a happy life is shaped by expectations. The Geometry of Wealth is as practical as it is philosophical. À la Charlie Munger, Portnoy emphasizes individual behavior, mainly self-control and self-awareness, as the most important factor in investment success. He suggests we focus on being “less wrong” over being “more right,” in the sense that asset allocation is far more important than security selection and market timing. But on the path towards adaptive simplicity in investing, he also digs deeper into its importance in our broader lives, offering an enlightened discussion of experienced vs. reflective happiness, expectations, and human nature.

The ‘good life’ is not the tweak of ephemeral pleasure, but the engagement with more meaningful, virtuous pursuits. Momentary pleasures are distinct from the enduring gravity of meaningful experience.
— Brian Portnoy

3) The Bed of Procrustes — by Nassim Taleb

Great introduction to Taleb’s ideas on uncertainty, which he discusses in detail in his other books that make up the Incerto series: AntifragileFooled by Randomness, and The Black Swan. This book offers a succinct look into how we deal with what we don’t know. Taleb considers our tendency to package and reduce ideas into neat narratives that fit within the constraints of our limited knowledge. I would argue that he’s one of the most original, brilliant minds of our time.

Knowledge is subtractive, not additive–what we subtract (reduction by what does not work, what not to do), not what we add (what to do).
— Nassim Taleb

4) Real Artists Don’t Starve — by Jeff Goins

Practical and refreshing resource for smart creatives and entrepreneurs. Goins picks apart the myths surrounding the Starving Artist and offers an improved alternative of the Thriving Artist. There are dozens of useful rules of thumb you can apply to your own position, no matter where you are. Thriving Artists build their creative dreams step by step (not overnight). They focus on rearrangement and building upon the work of those who have influenced them (not obsessing over originality). They leverage their existing jobs for resources (not quitting too early and without reason). They recognize the value of a multidisciplinary approach and multiple revenue streams (not mastering a single skill and risking it all on a single bet). Goins follows this same pattern throughout the book, detailing the difference in mindsets, how to position yourself in the market, and how to make a living. It’s a modern-day guide for living a better, more creative life, without struggling for the sake of struggling.

Thriving Artists don’t just live off their art. Like good investors, they keep diverse portfolios, relying on multiple income streams to make a living. Rarely do they go all in on any single area of work. The challenge, then, is knowing what investments to make and when.
— Jeff Goins

5) The Inner Game of Tennis — by W. Timothy Gallwey

I’m usually skeptical of anything that remotely resembles sports as a metaphor for life, but this a tremendous read. It’s less a book about tennis (although there are a few sections) and more about the art of relaxed concentration. It’s a simple but profound concept that suggests the secret to performing your best is in developing a quiet confidence, and most importantly, not trying too hard. Gallwey draws a line between Self 1–the conscious teller, and Self 2–the doer. He advocates developing greater trust in Self 2, which helps to cultivate effortless concentration (flow), instead of a more tense, overly controlled approach which creates an unnecessary obstacle. Gallwey also offers an insightful perspective as he digs deeper into concepts including judgment, awareness, ego, and mindfulness, which adds another dimension to the book.

The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills; he discovers a true basis for self-confidence; and he learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard.
— W. Timothy Gallwey

6) Tribe — by Sebastian Junger

Clear, concise, and thought-provoking read that examines the struggle to find loyalty, belonging, and meaning in modern society. Junger spotlights military veterans and the growing rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, but he also takes a step back to examine the human condition at large. He discusses hardship, raw experiences, social bonds, community, mental health, and what we can learn from tribal societies. Tribe explains that there are three essential needs that must be met if we wish to feel content–the need to feel competent at what we do, the need to feel authentic in our lives, and the need to feel connected to others. Junger considers the effects of their absence and makes a compelling case that we should strive to rediscover and prioritize their importance.

Human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others.
— Sebastian Junger

The Difference Between Lifelong Learners and Pretenders

There’s an underlying difference between lifelong learners — smart, intellectually curious thinkers — and those who use obscure knowledge as social collateral. Often it’s the first visible symptom of misplaced motivation and a shallow foundation of ideas — overidentification.

We all know someone who overidentifies with each book, documentary, or source of information they come across. They regurgitate the ideas and arguments presented, ad nauseam. There’s no room for personal interpretation. They seek a source that fits neatly into their existing worldview and repeat it for weeks as if it’s their own.

In contrast, the smartest minds allow themselves to sit in the gray area. They don’t overidentify with any single source of knowledge. Instead, they give themselves time to distill information and ideas into their most useful components.

The pretenders take the opposite approach. It’s all or nothing. They fail to grasp that you don’t have to adopt 100% of the arguments presented by a public voice — author, filmmaker, thought leader, etc. But a single idea you don’t identify with doesn’t negate the overall value of their work.

At its core, this mindset is often rooted in the promise of some external reward. When your desire to learn is fueled by ego, approval, attention, or recognition, overidentification is the obvious end result. You’re not truly committed to learning. You’ll stop when you come across the first idea that appears satisfactory, perpetuating your own confirmation bias.

Although, it’s not always a conscious decision. It’s easy to overidentify, especially early in life with limited perspective. You have fewer reference points. As a result, when you find an influencer who you admire, you naturally gravitate towards all of their ideas.

But the more you read and the more you learn, the more aware you become of just how wide the spectrum of opinions is.

It’s a strange feeling. We’ve all experienced a strong desire to identify with the entirety of the views from those we respect. It would certainly make things easier and eliminate most of the painstaking introspection required on our part. Who wouldn’t want a definitive, personal guide to entrust with navigating life’s uncertainties on our behalf?

Unfortunately, there’s no neatly packaged manual for our individual lives.

Have the moral courage to live in the gray, sit with uncertainty but not in a passive way. Live the questions so that, one day, you will live yourself into the answers.
— Jacqueline Novogratz

Part of a self-sufficient mind is being able to sift through facts, opinions, and interpretations to piece together your own cohesive worldview. You’re allowed to, and should, borrow ideas from multiple sources. But that means you’re going to have to put in the work.

There’s not a single person who has been right about everything. And there’s not an intelligent, enlightened thinker who has gone their entire life without changing their mind about something.

There are many people committed to learning and developing the most informed view on a specific subject. But that doesn’t mean they have every right answer. Most people are just doing their best to figure things out.

You should still maintain a zero-tolerance policy for deception or pure ignorance. If someone is unable to accept empirical facts or universal laws, it’s probably not worth investing the time to consider their ideas further. By refusing to operate with any sort of foundation in science or reason, it shows an unwillingness to enter a neutral arena. It’s the easiest way to distort reality and manipulate the field.

No one said it was going to be easy. The true litmus test of your critical thinking skills is how well you hold, assess, and incorporate new ideas into your own worldview. Is it a free for all? Or is it a careful examination and contemplation of the ideas that check out and resonate strongest with you?

Lifelong learners embrace ambiguity. They resist the urge to immediately adopt or discredit someone’s point of view based on a single interpretation or opinion. The deeper your well of knowledge, the better you’re able to balance multiple viewpoints, and the more rational your perspective.

Allow yourself to live and learn in the gray area.

Struggling to Find Direction in Life? Try This

Few things cause more angst in your 20s than struggling to come to terms with what you want out of life. But the best insight often reveals itself the moment you accept that you cannot be anything you want. In a world that loves empty sentiments and the delusional advice that you will be great at whatever you set your mind to, it’s an empowering realization.

I recently received a LinkedIn request from someone fresh out of college whose headline read: “Experienced Project Manager, Thoughtful Leader, Aspiring Musician and World Traveler.” My immediate impulse was to send out the word that, at long last, we’ve found the next Leonardo da Vinci. But empathy set in soon after, as I realized I was this exact person for most of the past decade.

When you trick yourself into believing you can be anything it often leads to paralysis. You become unwilling to make a single move out of fear of closing the door on a potentially rewarding alternative. But the reality is that many directions in life are mutually exclusive. Only once you check your inflated sense of self, are you free to focus on a single direction and begin creating momentum.

Picking a lane isn’t limiting. It’s the first act of empowerment.
— Ryan Holiday

To say I struggled to determine what to dedicate my time to during most of my 20s would be an understatement. It wasn’t that I had a shortage of interests, but the opposite–I felt like I had far too many. I wanted to be everything and as a result ended up unable to commit to anything. I convinced myself that I could balance dozens of unrelated goals. But meaningful progress proved impossible because I was unwilling to prioritize.

As I came to this realization, I discovered a thought exercise from Warren Buffett which he refers to as his “not to do” list. Rather than approaching my lack of direction and focus in the same way that I had for years, Buffett uses inversion to reframe the problem. And for me, this made a world of difference. It was only after I used this model that I was able to refocus and commit to the right things.

Here’s how to do it:

1) Write down your top 25 aspirations

List out 25 things that you want out of your life. 25 is general rule of thumb, go crazy. No matter how ridiculous you think they might be, get them on the page. My original list was all over the place and included things like publish a book, become a travel photographer, join/start a forward-thinking technology company, study Stoicism, and live near the mountains. Side note: There were far more ridiculous goals, but I’ve omitted those to avoid public humiliation.

2) Circle your top five

Ask yourself, which five aspirations are essential to having a good life. Which can you not live without? Which leverage your natural talents and allow you pursue more of what you enjoy? Remember, most of these are aspirations and goals for a reason. You’ll have to put in years of dedication and hard work to achieve them. Figure out which include a process you’re able to immerse yourself in and sustain for indefinite periods of time, because that’s what it takes.

There are certain goals that you should be able to cross off with relative ease, while others might require additional soul searching. “Become a travel photographer” was an easy one for me. That’s a dismal idea for someone who is average at photography and has no natural curiosity to further my skills in this area. All it took was a simple reminder to look beyond the romanticized end result and consider the process involved.

3) Avoid the other 20 at all costs

Once you’ve narrowed it down to your top five, bury the other 20. Buffett refers to these as goals to ‘avoid at all costs.’ They’re particularly dangerous because as long as you allow them to, they’ll linger in the back of your mind, distracting you from making progress where it matters. This can be difficult to come to terms with, but it’s essential if you want to contribute your best work to the world. You only have a small window of opportunity. Your focus must be dialed in to your top five if you have any hopes of accomplishing them.

This exercise demands a deep level of honesty and introspection, but can be done in a single afternoon if you’re dialed in. Don’t get too caught up in the specifics, you can adapt it however you see fit. But no matter how you approach the exercise, it proves to be one of the most valuable frameworks to help you negotiate your priorities and reflect on life’s more difficult decision.

My personal approach is to use the top five for larger aspirations which encompass dozens of smaller goals. One example that made my final list is publishing a book. I’ve broken this down further into its individual components, which I view as necessary to the success of the greater objective. These include growing my newsletter to 10,000 subscribers, writing shorter articles that cover a range of subjects to see which gain the most traction, and partnering with online publications that match my style to generate additional exposure.

There’s great value in using your 20s to try as many new things as possible and allowing your work to teach you as you go. In this trial by fire, you often learn as much about what’s worth sticking out by discovering what you don’t enjoy and what you’re not good at.

But you have to be realistic. The earlier you cross the irrelevant off your list, the faster you’ll be able to make meaningful progress and give your complete attention to the things you can’t live without.

Remind yourself that you don’t have to be everything. There will be things you suck at, and that’s okay. The only true responsibility you have in this life is to give something back to the world based on what resonates with you as an individual.

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