December 14

21 Life Lessons I’ve Learned in 2021

Every person I’ve interviewed in the past 10 years has taught me invaluable lessons about what it means to live your life with intention, meaning, and purpose. But, knowledge only becomes wisdom when we reflect on what we’ve learned. I create a list of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from podcasts guests every year because it forces me to reflect on everything I’ve learned—this is what I learned from podcast guests in 2021.

Part 1:Keys to Getting Everything You Want

1. Mimetic Desire Influences Every Choice We Make

Most people aren’t fully responsible for choosing their own goals. People pursue the goals that are on offer to them in their system of desire.

Luke Burgis

Mimetic desire and external factors like parents, peers, media, and pop culture influence the clothes we wear, careers we pursue, goals we set, and partners we choose. When we are unaware of its impact on our decisions mimetic desire can wreak havoc on our lives. It can cause us to set goals that are not aligned with our values and sacrifice internal fulfillment for external validation.

Listen to our Interview with Luke Burgis

2. Lower Your Ambition

The more okay you are with the life you have and with not being super achiever, the most freed up psychologically, you are to actually create amazingly impressive things, to really make a difference in some field, perhaps even to become a sort of, one of these sorts of stratospheric gods of the civilization.

Oliver Burkeman

Ambition is not a bad thing. No parent, teacher, coach, or boss discourages a child, student, athlete, or employee from being ambitious. But there is a dark side and diminishing return to relentless ambition.

  • Excessive ambition leads to unrealistic goals, envy, comparison, workaholism and social isolation
  • Unchecked ambition increases self-obsession and decrease self-awareness.

Excessive ambition ultimately led to their demise for people like Elizabeth Holmes and professional athletes who used steroids to gain a competitive edge. The paradox of ambition is that a little less might help you accomplish more.

Listen to our interview with Oliver Burkeman

3. Apply Proven Principles in an Original Context

By understanding why someone else is successful, you can distill down the strategies that made them successful and apply them in new ways. Applying them in new ways is critical, which is the key difference between mimicry and innovation

Ron Friedman

All prescriptive advice is contextual. Good advice in one context is piss poor advice in another.
When you apply any principle in the same context as the person who teaches you the principle, it leads to mimicry. But when you apply the same principle in an original context, it leads to innovation.

Listen to our interview with Ron Friedman

4. Anecdotal Evidence Makes You Susceptible to Bullshit

When you have any hypothesis about how the world works, the way people actually operate, no matter what it is it’s rather easy to find at least a couple of good stories that support the idea and people are attracted to stories.

John Petrocelli

On a large enough scale, anecdotal evidence evolves into fad diets, false truths, and popular platitudes that cause people to mistake bullshit for truth.

Follow your passion is a popular platitude largely based on anecdotal evidence and stories about outliers. But it’s bad advice that only sounds good in self-help books and commencement speeches.

Anecdotal evidence might convince you that this advice is a road to riches. But if your passion doesn’t equate to a skill that matches a market need, following your passion is a road to nowhere.

When you don’t question the source of the information, look for evidence to the contrary, and think critically about its validity in the context of your own life, you become more susceptible to bullshit and mistake it for truth.

Listen to our interview with John Petrocelli

5. Your Emotional Runway Matters as Much as Your Financial One

Cash flow is the lifeblood of a business. As a business owner, you have to know how many months you could last without making any money. But, there’s also another equally important metric: your emotional runway.

Whenever you try to do anything new or try create any type of change, you’re going to be on the receiving end of doubt, rejection and failure. You need to have enough gas in the tank, enough emotional runway to go through that. And you’re only gonna have it If that idea makes you come alive.

Suneel Gupta

If your project, book, idea, or startup doesn’t make you come alive, you won’t have the emotional runway to keep going when you experience failure or rejection.

Listen to our interview with Suneel Gupta

6. Every Journey Worth Taking Will Have Setbacks

I think that’s important to acknowledge before starting a journey because you want to build in an expectation that there will be setbacks and that it’s not going to be the smoothest ride. Otherwise you’ll collapse when you hit the first one and then you won’t make it.

Katy Milkman

Setbacks are an inevitable part of any journey worth taking. You’ll endure obstacles, dead ends, detours and parts that suck. But if you can’t embrace the parts that suck, you’ll never experience the ones that don’t.

Listen to our interview with Katy Milkman

7. Choose a Direction Instead of a Destination

When I describe goal free living, it’s not that you don’t have goals and it doesn’t mean that you don’t aspire to different things, but it’s about having a sense of direction, not a specific destination. And then you meander with purpose. And so it’s still about moving forward. It’s still about direction, still about taking action, but it’s not being, so my optically narrowly focused on one particular point

Stephen Shapiro

Throughout your life, you’ll discover things about yourself you don’t or can’t know right now. The life you want at 40 will be very different than the one you wanted at 20.

  • Choosing a destination makes you a tourist. Choosing a direction makes you a traveler.
  • Choosing direction liberates you from expectations, attachment, and a lot of unnecessary suffering. When you choose a destination and have so many expectations for exactly how your life should unfold, you endure unnecessary suffering.

Choosing a direction expands what’s possible in your life, and a destination limits it.

Listen to our interview with Stephen Shapiro

8. Ask Yourself if You’re Waiting to Be Picked or Waiting to Do the Work

I was waiting for that editor to call. I was always bad about that in my early days. sense? I think the . I see a lot of people waiting to work, not waiting to get picked.

Austin Kleon

One of Seth Godin’s most brilliant observations is about artists who subject themselves to the tyranny of waiting to be picked. So many aspiring artists and entrepreneurs are waiting for…

Publishers who will publish their book

Movie directors who will cast them in a leading role

Podcasts who will invite them to be a guest

But when they confuse waiting to be picked with waiting to do the work, it’s even less likely someone will give them the opportunities they seek.

I learned this the hard way when I didn’t have a contract for a third book. One of my friends said, “why are you waiting? Remember you got a book deal because you stopped waiting for a publisher to give you one.”

Ask yourself if you are waiting to be picked or waiting to do the work? Then act as if you have the job you want and do the damn work. 

Listen to our interview with Austin Kleon

9. Serve Where You’re Needed and Make Yourself Useful

Impact players bring incredible talent, drive, and passion to their work. But they work on what matters to the people they work for, whether it’s a client, a boss, a stakeholder, a team. They are willing to serve where they’re needed. They become valuable, influential, and impactful.

Liz Wiseman

NBA basketball players like Andre Igoudala and Manu Ginobli were the 6th men on their respective teams. Because they were willing to put the success of their teams over their individual goals, they both won NBA championships.

You might want a spot on the starting lineup, lead in the movie or promotion at your job. But sometimes you have to be the 6th man, take a supporting role, or stay in your current job.

When you serve where you’re needed and make yourself useful, you’ll become what Liz Wiseman calls an impact player. And the rewards you receive will be even greater.

Listen to our interview with Liz Wiseman

Part 2: The Mindset for Getting Everything You Want

10. The Purpose of Every Life Experience is to Push You to The Edge of Your Evolution

Life is just going to deliver to you whatever it thinks it needs to push you to the edge of your evolution.

-Collette Pervette

Your comfort zone is a prison of familiarity and certainty. Nothing unpredictable happens within it, but nothing interesting does either. When life pushes you to the edge of your evolution and you step outside your comfort zone, you will suffer.

  • You’ll fail at something that matters, fuck up things that don’t, and disappoint people in your life.
  • You’ll break someone’s heart, and someone will break yours.
  • Critics will vilify you, assholes will cut you off in traffic, and people will think you’re an idiot.

Personal evolution increases in proportion to your tolerance for discomfort and your ability to find power in pain and freedom in bondage.

Listen to our interview with Colette Pervette

11. Play the Cards You’ve Been Dealt

My mother has been married three times. My dad had bipolar disorder, then he passed away when I was 13. I have all these things that are like stacked against me. In the eyes of anyone who upholds those oppressive Indian values they would see me as less than, so those are the cards I have nowI get to figure out what other cars I have that can help me.

Upasana Barath

Some people are born with horseshoes up their asses and silver spoons in their mouths. The rest of us can either play the cards we’ve been dealt or lament the fact that life dealt us a bad hand.

If you become the type of person who plays the cards you’ve been dealt, you’ll be better off than someone who won the genetic lottery. You’ll learn to create your own luck.

Listen to our interview with Upasana Barath

12. Fame and Success Won’t Heal Your Wounds

Everyone thinks that if they achieve status, money, fame, a TV show, a big podcast or a great album or a film like, that will heal these wounds and minimize that shame or lack of self worth.

Justin Connor

Fame and success will increase your net worth, but not your self-worth. You can’t solve internal problems with external solutions or heal bullet wounds with band-aids. Fame and success might give you temporary relief from the pain of emotional wounds, but they won’t prevent you from bleeding to death.

Listen to our interview with Justin Connor

13. Likability Is More Important Than Status

Likability is so important and it’s not status. About two thirds of those who have the highest levels of status are very disliked. If you can have both, that’s great. Odds are statistically that status might come at some expense of likability

Mitch Prinstein

Status creates the illusion of likability and it’s for sale on every social platform if you have a big enough advertising budget.

  • Having a million followers or even being the President of a country will give you status.
  • But if status led to likability, millions of people around the world wouldn’t hate the leaders of their countries.

In your eulogy, people won’t remember your status in society. They’ll remember how likable you were.
The difference between status and likability is that the latter isn’t for sale.

Listen to our interview with Mitch Prinstein

14. Confidence Can Limit Personal Growth

When we convince ourselves that confidence is everything, then we actually limit our ability to grow. And self belief is very different. Self belief is a choice. Self-belief is that unshakeable center that tells you that you can step off the cliff into the unknown or into what appears to be the drop or the nothing, and that you’re not going to die.

Leslie Ehm

Confidence can delude us into thinking we’re right when we’re wrong and make us closed-minded when we should be open-minded. It is also more fragile than self-belief. When something doesn’t turn out how we thought it would, it can shatter confidence.

Self-belief enables you to risk being wrong, put your heart on the line knowing someone might break it, get up when you hit rock bottom, and keep going when you’re tempted to quit. Self-belief is a prerequisite for confidence.

Listen to our interview with Leslie Ehm

15. Aspire to Become a Black Sheep

The real reason that farmers don’t value black sheep is because a black sheep’s wool cannot be died. So in effect, every black sheep is 100% authentically original. Generations of people have grown up feeling like a black sheep. The truth is that they should aspire to be that.

Brant Menswar

The term black sheep has negative connotations. When we refer to someone as the “black sheep” of the family, they’re usually a deadbeat, drug addict, or loser. But the meaning we assign to something is a choice

Being labeled a “black sheep” only makes you a loser if that’s what the meaning you assign to the term.

Embracing your black sheep values is not a license to be a jackass. It’s a permission slip to be the most unapologetic, no-bullshit version of yourself and stay true to your values.

Listen to our interview with Brant Menswar

16.You’re Always Someone’s Bitch

Every single industry in the world that has been built on the backs of creatives and or entertainers and or athletes is a business that was designed to exploit the talent One of the things I tell people is you’ve got to remember as a creative you’re always somebody’s bitch. It doesn’t matter how big a name you are. 

Steven Kotler

This is a harsh truth about a successful career in the arts that nobody tells you before you sign your first book contract, sign with a record label, or land your first big role in a movie. You’re always someone’s bitch.

  • If you’re a New York Times Best-selling author, you’re the publisher’s bitch.
  • When you produce a grammy-winning album, you’re the record label’s bitch
  • If your act, direct, or produce a movie that wins an Oscar, you’re the movie studio’s bitch.

Just because a business sells art, it doesn’t make that business immune to the rules of capitalism.

Publishers, record labels, and movie studios are like any other business. As a creator, you’re only as good to them as the money you earn. Once your movie, book, or album stops making the studio, label, or publisher money, you’re disposable. Regardless of how famous or successful you become, you’re always someone’s bitch.

Listen to our interview with Steven Kotler

Strategies for Getting Everything You Want

17. The Reversal Cost of Your Decisions Determines Their Impact on Your Long Term Happiness

There’s almost no decision that’s actually permanent. Decisions are all reversible to some degree or another. It’s really a question of cost.

Annie Duke

There are potential outcomes and reversal costs associated with every decision you’ll make.

Trivial decisions have low reversal costs and minimal impact on long-term happiness.
Bad dates and disgusting meals quickly become distant memories

Important decisions have high reversal costs and a substantial impact on long-term happiness.

The author David Brooks says who you marry is probably the most important decision you’ll make in your life. If you marry the wrong person, it could cost you a fortune in legal fees and years of your life.

Impact on long-term happiness increases in proportion to the reversal costs of a decision.

Listen to our interview with Annie Duke

18. Resist the Temptation to Add When You Could Subtract

When we’re presented with a situation like a house that we want to renovate , a piece of writing or outline for a course, our first instinct is to think, “what can we add to this?” And what we found in our studies was that oftentimes people chose adding was objectively the wrong answer.

Leidy Klotz

Our inboxes are flooded with emails, our social feeds are inundated with highlight reels of other people’s lives, and society is suffering from an epidemic of information overload. The irony is that we read more books, listen to more podcasts and put more effort into changing our lives without realizing that information overload is making us stupid, unproductive, and poor.

  • People add to their wardrobes, homes, and daily schedules.
  • Writers add words, pages, and paragraphs to their content.
  • Designers and and developers add features to their apps

Then we wonder why we have to do so much damn laundry, our houses are a mess, and we can’t find the time for the people and things that matter most to us. We wonder why our writing isn’t clear, a website is too slow, or the app is too difficult to use.

Resisting the instinct to add and choosing to subtract makes businesses more successful, products easier to use, content more likely to resonate, and people much happier. Everything we add to our lives imprisons us. Everything we subtract sets us free.

19. Ask Yourself How You Are Making Something Harder Than It Needs to Be

Think of something that really matters to you that might be overwhelming. And ask, “how am I making this harder than it needs to be?” That’s a magic question because all that over-complication, all that over-engineering overthinking, overexertion all that over is going to get in your way.

Greg Mckeown

In the early 2000s, streaming video from a computer wasn’t as easy as it is today. A friend of mine was an MIT graduate working at Oracle.

When I went to his apartment for dinner, he was building a remote control that would let him control the computer in his bedroom while watching TV in his living room. I said, “why don’t you use a wireless mouse?

The curse of being brilliant is that you overcomplicate shit, and the blessing of average intelligence is that you simplify. If you want to make something effortless, ask yourself “How am I making this harder than it needs to be? 

20. Don’t Confuse Power With Authority

The biggest misconception we have about power is that it comes from authority. We believe the person at the top, the president, the CEO, etc., are the ones that have the most power. 

The most effective change-makers in companies and the most effective change-makers are often not the people at the top. They are the people who are central in the network of the organization, the people to whom others come for advice. Those are the most influential people because those are the people others trust. Don’t look at the organizational chart. You have to understand what is it that’s valued. You have to understand the network of relationships. 

Julie Battilana

You might think a bartender doesn’t have as much power as the owner of a restaurant. But she has more power than you realize.

If you’re a dick to people who serve you food or alcohol when they screw up a meal or take time to serve you, you’re not going to get better service. If you’re kind and recognize their power, they’ll give you free drinks and comp your meals.

When you don’t confuse power with authority, you’ll be able to identify power brokers and build relationships with them. 

Listen to our interview with Julie Battilana

21.What’s on Your Tombstone Is More Important Than What’s on Your Resume

When I die, they’re going to put a tombstone on top of of me. I’m working for what they don’t see on their tombstone. Right now. It’s going to say Harvard fellow, it’s going to say honorable son.My goal is to get that 13th amendment changed where it doesn’t say you can incarcerate somebody under the pretense of slavery if they commit a crime, I want to take what is deemed the last passion of slavery, mass incarceration, and throw that last brick into the ocean. I want Harvard fellow, honorable son , and last brick in the ocean written on my tombstone.

Andre Norman

Early in life, we climb what David Brooks calls the first mountain, which is all about optimizing for resume virtues. But when you realize there’s less time in front of you than there is behind you, you start climbing the second mountain, which is all about eulogy virtues.

Last year on New Year’s eve, my roommate Tim asked me, “what would you want to be written on your tombstone in six words or less? Reflect on your answer to this question and live your life accordingly.

Listen to our interview with Andre Norman

The guests on the Unmistakable Creative shatter my misperceptions, expand my perspective and change the way I see the world every year. While I highlighted the people in this article, every single person I’ve interviewed has taught me something invaluable. If you enjoyed this article and like podcasts, click here and Subscribe to the Unmistakable Creative Podcast.


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