Lessons From Year 28

By Nat Eliason in Life

Published or Updated on Mar 05, 2021

What an odd time of year to have a birthday. 

Last year, Cosette and I spent my birthday in Cozumel, Mexico, and knew the US was likely to go into lockdown shortly after getting back. 

When we returned we shut down the Cup & Leaf Cafe, stocked up on supplies, and got a new puppy and a handgun. You know, the essentials. 

Then… quarantine started! And now almost exactly 1 year since the initial shutdown, it looks like Texas is revoking the mask mandate and letting restaurants open at 100% capacity.

So the year of quarantine lined up almost perfectly with my 28th year of life. Funny how that worked out.

Despite the 'rona, it still managed to be a pretty good year. One of the most notable events being promoting Nora to CEO of Growth Machine.

But I also joined Every, bought Walden, started work on Creator Towns, sold Cup & Leaf, my Roam course did insanely well, and a couple other things happened I can’t share publicly yet 👀. 

And as usual, I learned a few things along the way. Here are some lessons life taught me this year, continuing the tradition from years 25, 26, and 27.

Productivity is a Low Leverage Optimization

I have a longer article coming on this but I think most desires for “productivity” are misguided. They’re optimizing the wrong part of the work stack because it’s the easiest area to focus. 

As a simple example, working 10x faster breaking rocks is not going to give you Elon-level world impact. The things you choose to focus on and work on set the ceiling for where your productivity can get you. Running faster in the wrong direction won’t get you where you want to be. 

Even some of the desires for greater Personal Leverage could be misguided if you’re creating more output on a process that isn’t truly meaningful or impactful for you. It’s so important to be very deliberate about what we spend our energy on.

You Don’t Have to Make Money Back Where You Lost It

Losing the Cup & Leaf cafe to COVID sucked. But it would have sucked a lot worse if Cosette and I weren’t diversified in what we work on and weren’t able to find other ways to cover the expenses.

When a business, project, investment, anything is starting to lose money, our first instinct is to fix the leak. To try to make everything self sustaining. 

But the whole benefit of working on a variety of projects is that if one starts to become a cost center, you don’t have to make up the difference there. You can make it up somewhere else. 

At the end of the day, it was easier to cover the cost of the cafe by working on other things. I focused on Roam and Growth Machine, Cosette went into real estate. And that’s part of what let us hold on to the lease for now and not be rushed about getting back open, while selling the online part of the business. 

Don’t obsess over fixing a leak if there’s a way to fill the tub with a lot more water. Time is your most valuable resource. 

Get Outside

One thing I realized about health this year is how essential time outside is. 

When quarantine started, I was spending almost the entire day inside. After a couple weeks I felt like shit. I was eating terribly, drinking too much, spending a lot of time in front of screens, and generally not thriving. 

After a couple months of life indoors, I started making an effort to try to at least spend some of the day in the sun. The psychological difference was immediate. Just getting a couple hours outside each day helped my sleep, stress, mood, even food choices. It turns out to be an extremely high leverage intervention to make for having a better sense of wellbeing. 

The difference worked even if I was spending that time outside in front of my laptop working. Simply having the fresh air and sun on me for a few hours a day could pretty much determine whether it felt like a “good day” or not. 

Since realizing that, I’ve been trying to get at least three hours outside a day, if not more. 

I think this is a huge hidden cost to living in a cold climate. If it’s freezing and overcast for months at a time, that has to have a pretty bad effect on you. We know about Seasonal Affective Disorder, but what other less-obvious consequences are there for living life inside? It definitely had a negative impact on COVID outcomes, given how strong the relationship was between Vitamin D deficiency and death. But I suspect it’s impacting a lot of other things too. 

Explore and Exploit

Since stepping out of Growth Machine I’ve really struggled with deciding what I want to put all my energy towards. And one problem I’ve discovered I have is that I jump into things too quickly without fully exploring the options available or digging into an option before committing to it. That was the mistake I made with YouTube and my membership. 

I did a better job of this with Creator Towns, since I know that’s something I’m confident I want to work on over time. But it’s a slowwww project, and I realized I was driving myself somewhat insane in the beginning expecting small town real estate to move at Internet startup speeds. 

One heuristic I’ve heard is that you should spend 10% of the total time you expect to spend on a project figuring out if you even want to work on it. So if you’re considering a startup idea that would likely involve a 10 year commitment, spend 1 year exploring ideas before you settle on one. When you immediately jump into the first thing that seems exciting, you might end up stuck doing work that’s not as meaningful or impactful as you’d hoped. 

It’s helpful to figure out which side of the Explore / Exploit dichotomy you tend towards more. I definitely tend to really love exploration, and have to be careful about not starting too many things or committing myself to too much. Other people might tend more heavily towards the exploit end, where they’re less confident about exploring new opportunities in work and life. 

But the other challenge is figuring out where you are in your life. Are you in an Explore stage? Or an Exploit stage? I’m definitely in an Explore stage right now, and as much as I want to go all in on something, I still have some of my weekly work energy to figure out how to allocate and I should take my time figuring out where to aim it. 

Trust Your Negative Gut, but Question Your Positive Gut

Every time I’ve thought to myself “this client is going to be a pain in the ass” I’ve been right.  

The same tends to go for when I think something is a bad idea, someone isn’t a good fit to work with anymore, or something isn’t going to go well. I can’t name a single time I’ve taken some action based on that feeling, like firing someone, and regretted it later.  

As hard as it is, I should default to trusting my “negative gut,” even when I don’t understand it.

But that doesn’t mean always trusting our gut. There have been tons of times where I’ve been super excited about working with someone, or working on something, and that’s turned out later to be a bad decision. 

This is probably where the “Hire slow, fire fast” maxim comes from. When you think it’s time to fire someone, the time was probably a month ago. And when you’re really excited to hire or work with someone, you should take a step back and really do your due diligence. 

It’s very hard to do the latter when you’re high Quickstart like most entrepreneurs, so finding ways to enforce it can help you insulate yourself from bad decisions.

But when you have a bad feeling about something don’t question it too much. Just listen. 

The Truth is In Your Hands

One of the biggest lessons from the last year, besides to be prepared, is how little we can trust legacy institutions to give us an accurate understanding of the world.

The New York Times has deprioritized integrity in favor of clicks. Government agencies designed to protect our health are making us sick. Formerly liberal values like free speech, free association, and medical freedom are suddenly dangerous. 

We’ve undergone a massive epistemological shift in the last year. Methods of truth seeking that may have been reliable five years ago are now suspect, and we all need to update our strategies to compensate.

It’s on each of us to do our best to seek truth, recognizing that credentials are no longer a good signal of reliability. We have to dig as close to the root of a topic as possible, and decide for ourselves what makes sense instead of trusting people with audiences, power, or expensive pieces of paper.

Don’t read the news about what happened, try to find videos of the events. Don’t read health blogs, read research papers. Don’t do what you’re told, do what makes sense. 

And if you’re outraged, you’re being monetized. 

On to another good year! 


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