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Lessons from 2020

January 24, 2021 • ☕️ 3 min read

Last week I wrote about my biggest wins for 2020. In this post I want to explore last year’s life lessons. My hope is that by writing about them they’ll become an integral part of how I relate to the world.

I’ll be releasing these over a few posts, so without any further ado here’s the first two.

1. I can live on very little money

There was a time at the beginning of the pandemic where my short-term financial future seemed uncertain. I’m grateful that this uncertainty was short-lived and that 2020 turned out to be a good year for me financially. Yet I’m also glad for this uncertainty because it led to a deeper understanding of the place of money in my life.

During this period I decided to cut my spending back. I was forced to reflect on my financial situation and this process eventually led to an awareness of just how little money I can lead a happy life on. My current spending is around 40% lower than what it was at the start of the year, whilst at the same time I’ve experienced a clear positive shift in my day-to-day fulfilment.

Of course correlation does not imply causation. Yet, it’s illuminating to see how much I can enjoy myself through non-material means. There’s a freedom that comes with this awareness. Knowing how little I can live on has given me the courage to pursue big life decisions with much less emphasis on how they will impact me financially. Of course this concern will never disappear, but it feels like there’s much more room for exploration and experimentation.

One form this exploration has taken is online education, a pursuit that’s brought me pure joy recently. Yet the long list of courses on my wish list requires financial resource. Knowing how little I could live on opened up the possibilities of what I could take on. And because I’m deriving so much meaning from learning right now, it doesn’t even feel like a sacrifice.

In fact, it’s turned into a game for me. A sort of via negativa. Suddenly the superfluous has become obvious. I’ve said goodbye to fabric softener, cotton buds, shampoo and shower gel. Intermittent fasting is easier when I know I’m saving money on an extra meal. This way of life might appear harsh but knowing that the precious life energy tied up in my money is going to the evolution of my being brings me nothing but satisfaction.

2. Time off is essential for insights and breakthroughs

In life, we need both orientation and speed. Orientation without speed gets us nowhere. Speed without orientation gets us to all the wrong places. The latter case is even worse because once we’ve built up speed it becomes much harder to change course. Inertia and the sunk cost fallacy sets in, making a change of direction that much more emotionally laborious.

It’s become clear to me that building speed and finding orientation are orthogonal pursuits. They cannot happen at the same time because they require different ways of approaching reality.

Execution is about getting your head down, blocking out distractions and obsessively pushing towards your destination. In a certain sense, you’re closing yourself off to the world.

Wayfinding is about opening up to the world. It is exploration without needing to get anywhere. It is a receptive and connected attitude towards life where you cast assumptions aside and become open to serendipity.

In 2020 I started taking wayfinding more seriously. I started the year by taking a month’s sabbatical. This was a time of unashamed following of my desires. I got to spend uninterrupted hours reflecting on who I was and what made me tick. By the end of it, I was clear on the work I wanted to keep doing, and more importantly on what I wanted to let go of.

What I discovered as the year went on is that these quiet moments of heightened clarity worked in a fractal manner. I didn’t need to take a month off. Something as simple as leaving my headphones behind when going for a walk opened up the space during my days for insights to strike.

These insights constantly shifted the direction of my work, often allowing me to clear the entire contents of my todo list by recognising an unusual but much shorter path to my objective. This has happened so often that it’s become obvious just how limited the always on, always striving approach is.

Even though my intellect would never recognise it, there’s a higher intelligence I can tap into. This intelligence is where insight comes from. The bad news is I can’t control it. The good news is that by relaxing, playing and connecting with others I increase the likelihood of it gracing me with its presence.

This might feel too good to be true but time and again I’ve experienced that time off is not the enemy of my goals, it’s where they are dreamed up in the first place.