1) You are what you do every day
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." - Will Durant, technically not Aristotle
"It is better to make many decisions per unit time with a slightly higher error rate than few with a slightly lower error rate, because obviously one of your future right decisions can reverse an earlier wrong one, provided the earlier one was not catastrophic, which they rarely are." - Elon Musk
There's always someone asking me how they can become a coder. My answer is always the same: start coding. Build the world's simplest website. If you don't understand something, Google it. If you still don't get it, ask a friend for help. Worst case scenario, you decide this coding thing isn't for you and lose a couple hours.
The answer is the same for anything else you want to do. You want to be a trader? Open up a Robinhood account, deposit $100, and start trading. Worst case scenario, you lose $100. You want to be a writer? Start writing in a journal, or start a blog under a pseudonym.
Process is the important detail here. And by "process" I don't mean the word that corporate drones use for endless soul-sucking meetings, I mean committing to regular action. Your process might be launching 12 startups in 12 months, writing 1 blog post per week, or testing a new trading hypothesis every week. Having a process sounds daunting, but, if you're like most Americans, you eat 2-3 meals a day, brush your teeth every day, and pay your bills every month. You already have a process, you just need to expand it.
Your actions and choices are cumulative, for better or for worse. You can't escape the simple fact that your actions will add up to some final sum. If you code every day, you'll be a coder. If you write every week, you'll be a writer. If you dabble in something different every day, you'll be a dilettante. And if you crack open a beer at 5pm every day and Netflix for 20 hours a week, you'll be a millennial Homer Simpson.
2) You can never over-invest in a healthy lifestyle
"The number of days that I'm riding because it's sunny, and the number of runs I'm getting because I don't have to unstrap and hike back up... I'm packing in months of training in these small windows compared to someone who lives in Vermont, where it's well below freezing and they're hiking the pike." - Shaun White, from Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris.
Some days will always be harder than others, but you can structure your life to make your process easier. Moving out of New York City was one of the best decisions I made. I lived in a tiny apartment that never got any direct sunlight because it faced a brick wall, got woken up by garbage trucks and screeching taxis every morning at 4am, and could barely afford the rent. To this day, that is still the most expensive apartment I ever lived in. Coding regularly just wasn't going to work if I was sleep deprived and miserable. So I "downgraded" to Jersey City, and later Northern California and Miami Beach.
Set up your life so that your process is easier. For me, that meant moving somewhere where I could get better sleep, better focus, and more time outdoors.
3) Never rely on a single source of income
"It is easy to be brave from behind a castle wall." - Welsh Proverb
Imagine you met a financial advisor who said that if you really believe in a stock, you should only invest in that one stock for the rest of your life. Would you take their advice, or would you write them off as an inane troll? And that's just with investing your money. What about investing your most precious resource: your time? Do you invest that into a single "asset" (conventional full-time employment) that may tank at a moment's notice, or do you diversify it across multiple assets to reduce your risk?
4) See through the sales pitch
"Brawndo's got what plants crave. It's got elecrolytes." - Idiocracy
I have the utmost contempt for practitioners of Reddit-driven development (RDD™). Reddit is a great site, but too many devs use Reddit as a replacement brain and substitute hero image slogans for critical thought.
That's one of the many reasons why I started this blog. There was way too much tech content out there that prioritized finely tuned marketing pitches and Brawndo-inspired logic over facts, concepts, and examples. I wanted a blog that would teach solutions to concrete problems and present abstract principles based on those solutions, rather than start with the abstraction and invent strawman problems to solve. RDD will tell you to use a tool that doesn't solve any problems, and then work to solve the problems that the tool causes. This blog is about solving concrete problems, and adopting tools and concepts if they can solve a whole class of problems.
5) There's nothing wrong with a good sales pitch
"You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want." - Zig Ziglar
It is no secret that developers and sales people generally don't get along, see #4. I can see the dev side of the disparity: as a young dev, I never really understood sales. The software should sell itself, right? Not exactly. Suppose you had the world's best hammer, but nobody understood why. Even worse, what if nobody wanted to build anything? Sales is about giving customers the motivation to improve their lives and the courage to see a brighter future.
6) Success and recognition always lag behind your own beliefs
"If you can see it here, and have the courage enough to speak it, it will happen. If you put out what you truly believe in, it will create the law of attraction and it becomes reality." - Conor McGregor
"A man's true enemy is doubt." - Marcus Crassus, Spartaus: War of the Damned E1 "Enemies of Rome"
When watching the original Star Trek, I always thought that Spock should be more like Kirk. That's because there is nothing more rational than irrational self confidence. If you don't believe in your dreams and ideas, how do you expect anyone else to? How do you expect to give something your all when in the back of your head you think it will never work?
7) Listen to your anger - it may have something important to say
"All right, brain. You don't like me and I don't like you, but let's just do this and I can get back to killing you with beer." - Homer Simpson
I must confess to thinking that the entire "practice gratitude" movement is missing the point. If you hate your job, you have a few options: you can acknowledge your anger, do something about it, and feel grateful that you took action to improve the situation. Or you can short-circuit the whole process by telling yourself to feel grateful for not starving today. If you're angry that someone cut you off in traffic, you can think about why you're spending so much time in traffic, negotiate a remote work arrangement, and feel grateful you no longer have to drive an hour each way. Or you can just say you're grateful that your commute isn't two hours and pretend the anger isn't there.
Of course, these are blue sky examples. Sometimes, there isn't anything you can do about a situation other than accept it. But anger is valuable information. It can tell you there's an opportunity to improve your situation. If you listen to your anger rather than bury it with empty platitudes, you might find yourself honestly feeling gratitude rather than forcing it.
8) You don't have time to do something, you make time to do something
"Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again." - Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation S5E25 "The Inner Light"
"Hope is not a strategy." - Vince Lombardi
I almost called this lesson "delayed gratification is the opiate of the masses," but I thought it was too loaded a metaphor. So I ended up settling on this nugget of wisdom from my martial arts teacher. Kicking the can down the road is an easy trap to fall into when it comes to getting what you want. You're "too busy" or there's "always someday." Don't take a passive attitude with your time. Make time to do what matters.
9) Math is like gravity - it can pull you down, or it can work for you
I once met an older man on a chair lift who talked about wishing he could spend more time with his daughter, but she was always so busy at work as a junior PM at Slack. She also wanted to take time to ski with her dad during the holiday season, but the older man said that when the company IPO-ed her 14 hour days would pay off (see lesson #8). Equity falls off exponentially as the company grows, and junior employees are generally grossly undervalued, but let's use SendGrid's recent IPO as an example.
The board of directors owns 36.98% of the company according to the SEC filing, and combined with 2 other VC firms and an original co-founder, add up to 87.4% of the company, leaving approximately 500 employees to split about $80M, or about $160k each. I would imagine junior PMs that weren't one of the first 100 employees made much less.
The odds are against you if you're expecting the options to justify working long hours at a late stage startup as a junior employee. Think critically about the sales pitch (see #4). However, if you join a late stage startup as an executive, like, say, the COO or VP of Sales at SendGrid, you can easily make $100k-$500k/year in options with less risk. If you're a junior employee, you're better off joining an early stage startup (more equity and more responsibility) or a larger company (better benefits, better hours, better pay).
Working hard and working smart gives you the best possible chance to be a positive outlier. But don't bet your health or family relationships on the hopes of being more than a couple standard deviations away from the mean.
10) Always be reading
"There is one spectacle grander than the sea, that is the sky; there is one spectacle grander than the sky, that is the interior of the soul." - Victor Hugo
Maybe I'm preaching to the choir here, or maybe I'm just complaining about "kids these days," but this tweet really gave me pause.
Does anyone read blogs on programming anymore? Which ones?— Dan Abramov (@dan_abramov) November 25, 2018
Crazy, right? There's a blog out there dedicated to learning every skill you could imagine. I first learned Node.js by reading Hack Sparrow. I'd guess 40% of my limited personal finance knowledge comes from reading everything Financial Samurai ever wrote. My early successes with physical fitness came from ditching mainstream advice in favor of Mark Sisson and Dave Asprey. And, of course, I learned a little bit of everything from reading Tim Ferriss. Here's me with Tim Ferriss when he spoke at my University in December 2010.
For every book and blog post out there, some author took the time and effort to distill their thoughts and experiences into a form other people can learn from. Books, blog posts, and ideas in general have the potential to improve your life more than any whiz-bang gadget.