Lessons learned from growing 27 years young

October 25, 2020

Last friday added another count to the yearly event we celebrate as “birthday”. I can barely remember my last birthday, I’m not a big birthday celebration person. I think every day can be a celebration if you choose it to be and a yearly event is not sufficient reason to treat yourself.

The passage of time seems to have changed over the years. Things move by at light speed, and if I blink I miss it. It doesn’t feel like a lot happened, and yet if I sit down and think about my last 1 year, a LOT has happened.

As I was reminiscing, I went beyond the last 1 year and thought generally of the value system that governs my life. These things come “obviously” to me and they’ve made my life better. I hope these values can serve you as well.

1. Fixed vs Growth mindset

If you’re anything like me from a few years ago, whenever someone would tell you a way to improve yourself or your life, your default reaction would be “yeah yeah but my life is hard I have X Y and Z reasons why I cannot do something about it”.

That’s fixed mindset. It’s when your mind operates under the base assumption that you, your situation, your surroundings, and your abilities, everything is static and fixed.

On the opposite end of the same spectrum is Growth mindset. Here, your mind knows and believes that everything is a work in progress, everything can be changed, and the path to changing something about your life that you don’t completely like is a path of fulfilment, not pain that you want to ignore.

A fixed mindset plateaus. A person with growth mindset improves and grows, a tiny bit, everyday and forever.

2. Complaining drags you down, think problem-solutions instead

I could complain about all the problems in my life, or I could list them down, write their probable cause, probable solutions, and the gaps in my knowledge that I need to fill with research to better understand the problem and find better solutions.

The energy that is used in complaining can be applied towards finding solutions. Not only do you not feel like shit, solving a problem is a positive experience and gives you the sense of control over your life vs submitting to “my life is so hard and the universe is out to get me”.

Sankalp was watching Mirzapur and shared this with me last night -

“I was watching Mirzapur today. There was a scene where the dons primary gun factory is burnt down to the ground by his rival.

He arrives at the scene, calmly guages the situation, then calls the CM who is one of his allies and tells him to release a press statement that the govt has tracked down a gun factory run by a criminal org, burnt it and put all the perpetrators in jail thereby making the state a safer place for everyone and uplift the party's image.”

3. 0 or 1, choices are binary

Most of the things in life are an either or. You either got up early today, or you didn’t. You either hit the gym, or you didn’t.

You could spend a lot of time in analysis of the gray area in between, but it’s a wasted effort on aspects of your life that operate like a transistor.It’s either 0 or 1, switched off or on.

Identify binary choices in your life and make them swiftly.

4. Everything is on a spectrum

At the same time, a lot of things in life are indeed in the gray area. These don’t have easy choices with clear outcomes, and yet you have to identify the spectrum and decide where you want to be on it in order to move ahead.

Hitting the gym is binary, how intensely you work out is on a spectrum.

Choosing to start a business is binary, how risky a path you pick lies on a spectrum.

5. via negativa. Addition by subtraction

The solution to most problems is not to add something, but to remove.

Not able to lose weight? You can exercise more, or you could eat less. You don’t need to add a night time meditation routine, you only need to remove your laptop and phone from the room.

A lot of pain in life can be prevented by “avoiding” doing things.

6. Inversion, or how not to do

Here’s a simple mental model that can make your life easier to navigate. Instead of looking for “how to be a good boss”, invert the question.

Identify instead the reasons that come up when you research “how to be a bad boss”. Apply via negativa, by avoiding the attributes of a bad boss you already become a good one.

I did the same when I had taken up my last PM job, by making a list of “how to be a bad product manager” and then avoiding those things.

Sankalp and I did the same when we were hiring by researching “mistakes to avoid when hiring”.

7. Common sense is not common practice

You might think something is obvious and also common sense, but I’ve learnt that there’s a reason many things are tagged as “common sense”. The phrase is an attribute that is desirable, but not necessarily literal.

Everyone knows eating greasy food in the long term will cause heart disease. Or not hitting the gym or exercising will make your body old and creaky and unfit. It’s common sense. But, not common practice.

The most important things in life are the simple and obvious ones. And yet they are the hardest to keep following day in and day out.

8. Time and energy are finite resources

The only finite resource in your life is time and energy. And every day, you have a finite amount available to you to apply to various things. Choose carefully.

9. Velocity, not speed

I refer to this over the more commonly referred hard work vs smart work analogy.

You could be running at a 100 miles/hour but getting no where if you’re moving in circles. Speed.

Your direction, where you are headed, is more important. Only by moving in the right direction do you make real progress. Velocity.

10. Treat others the way you would want to be treated

Another of the common sense not common practice terms. It’s easy to complain about others when they treat you unfairly. Yet when the power dynamics are reversed, people often do the same treatment to others.

The real test is how you treat others when you are in a position of power.

11. People don’t know what they really want

Nobody really does. The pursuit of meaning can end with the sharp knife of nihilism. There is no meaning or purpose in life.

But while having these thoughts are crucial to self-discovery, they aren’t helpful to fixate upon.

So people create meaning, direction, structures around their life to add meaning and purpose.

Which is why I think nobody really knows what they want. It’s all made up anyway.

12. Your health can’t wait

The truth is, every day our bodies are getting slightly older.

And after 25 things start moving faster. I bet they move even faster after 30 or later. Save yourself the trouble and maintain your body from before.

It makes it that much easier to get out of bed every day, have the energy to do all the things you want during the day, and just generally feel good.

13. What you eat is what your body becomes

The food you eat literally becomes molecules in your body.

One of the simplest ways to maintain health is by focusing on your eating.

It’s fascinating to me that we eat 3-6 times/day, and yet very few people spend any time or mental bandwidth understanding food, nutrition and its role in how it shapes our body.

There are simple heuristics that can go a long way - eating fats doesn’t make you fat, sugar is a carb that affects your body similar to how alcohol does, fasting has marvellous effects on your body, the mantra for weight loss is calories in calories out, the mantra for muscle gain is reps and protein intake.

14. The information you consume is what your mind becomes

If the food you eat becomes your body, then the information you consume becomes your mind. Protect your mind as if it’s your most precious resource (it is), by filtering the sources of information that you let influence you. Even your Twitter feed is programming your subconscious without you realising it.

15. How you think governs everything in your life

If you really think about it, how you think governs your whole life.

What you eat, whether you exercise, who you date, how you treat relationships, how you learn something new, how you deal with adversity, how you treat others when you are in a position of power, how you spend your free time, how you build your business.

Everything steps from the root of your thought process, how you think.

I spent an insane amount of time in 2017-18 deliberately trying to understand my thought patterns, why I think and do the way I do, how do I actually want to be, what should I change and what should I double down upon.

You can try to do this by reading books, but the best answers will come through developing high self-awareness and doing deep self-introspection.

16. Generalist skillset is a Swiss knife

Over the past few years, I’ve followed a simple mantra to learn whatever hard or soft skills can improve my skill tree required to build successful businesses.

I visualise it like the skill tree in an RPG game. You can’t unlock and master all branches, so you have to be selective in nurturing the right set of skills.

Thanks to this mindset, I learnt how to think about product, learnt how to design, simple coding but more importantly understanding the fundamentals of tech, and now I’m learning to become a great marketer.

This Swiss Army knife is what helps me understand and imagine better ways to achieve the goals we have set to build DelightChat.

And this doesn’t just apply to entrepreneurs.

If you’re a designer, you need to understand product management and technology to understand how design fits in between.

If you’re a marketer, you need to know how to write copy or design creatives or build landing pages in addition to coming up with a marketing strategy.

17. The real meta-skill is the ability to learn

And during this journey I realised that the actual ability isn’t being able to design, or manage product, or write great copy. The real meta-skill is the ability to learn new skills as they become important in your journey.

18. Don’t chase people, become valuable instead

Whenever a friend asks me “How do I make her like me?” or similar question, my answer always is “Don’t make anyone like you. Become likeable instead.”

It’s easy to focus on the external factor of making someone do something. But the only thing that’s really in your control is you, so why not focus all your energy on making yourself a person you would like to date?

19. The most dangerous thing to do is to not think for yourself

Everyone is telling you what to do. Your parents, neighbours (pressure via parents, “log kya kahenge”), peers (who bought a car or house).

The most dangerous thing you can do is blindly listen, or cave in to the pressure and do what others want you to.

The world is noisy and full of distraction. If you’re not following your own playbook, you’re following someone else’s.

20. Comparing yourself to others is a sure-shot path to misery

Your peers who tasted success or fame early are at a different part of their journey than you. Comparing yourself to them will only make you unhappy. Instead, treat other’s success as inspiration and make it a positive and enriching experience.

21. The concept of risk is misunderstood

We are privileged. If you’re reading this, you’re likely privileged enough to have food, clothing, shelter, a laptop and internet connection.

In a world where basic needs are increasingly taken care of and the outcome of failure isn’t death due to starvation, but rather going back to a job, or finding freelance clients, or moving back in with parents (Sankalp and I were ready to do this had SuperLemon not taken off), the real risk is not taking enough risk.

Understand upside, downside, ratio, and black swan. If the worst possible outcome is not really bad, and the best possible outcome is outrageously good, the decision kind of becomes obvious.

22. The best investments are compounding in nature

Your health efforts compound, relationships get better over time, money grows the longer it stays invested (read rule of 72), skills appreciate the more you practice and the longer you commit to practicing them.

The best returns in life return compounded gains, and that’s how I like to think when I do anything new.

That’s also why I’m a huge proponent of writing evergreen content on my blog vs only building ephemeral fame on social media.

23. Money is a means to an end

Money is an enabler, it opens doors, gives access, allows you to do things that were otherwise not possible. Treat money as a means to an end. And therefore you’ll conclude that the pursuit of money is futile, only what you want to do with it.

So decide first the end you are chasing, and then you’ll know how much money you need to get there.

24. Luck is for people who do things

We often think or say “that person got lucky”. Well yeah, they did.

But you know what else?

They put themselves out there. They took a chance. They did things that had low odds of success. They followed their own path.

And the law of nature is increasing entropy, which means if you’re out there doing things for long enough, something like “luck” strikes you.

25. Happiness is fleeting

You’re familiar with the phrase “seize the moment”. Its deeper meaning is that life is full of serendipitous moments, and you as an actor in space time only have one option, either by capturing that moment you make it yours, or you watch it slip by, often forever.

I discovered that happiness, a feeling the entire human race is chasing on some level, can’t be chased. It’s all about capturing those fleeting moments.

So keep your eyes open seize it whenever you can.

26. Satisfaction is architected

The feeling of contentment, fulfilment or gratification that forms the other fundamental desire for human beings is not a fleeting moment. Quite the opposite, satisfaction is from what you do, and therefore someone who doesn’t do anything cannot be satisfied.

I derive satisfaction from what I do - be it the work I put in building DelightChat (and SuperLemon before that), writing on a notepad these very words, talking to an aspiring entrepreneur helping them jump hoops and increase their odds of success, hearing about a friend’s successful business or that they are in great shape and good place in life, spending time with my partner teaching her what I know and learning from her in our efforts to become better people.

Satisfaction is deliberate. I could easily be stuck in a dead-end job that I don’t believe in instead of taking the risky path of building my own venture. I could be binging Netflix all week (note: I do watch shows on Netflix, it’s not a binary outcome) or I could take out a few hours to do what I enjoy (writing in my case).

I’m architecting my life to give me maximum satisfaction, and so can you.

27. True freedom is doing what you want without caring what the world thinks of you

The only way to do this is by following your own playbook, living life on your terms, creating wealth (money) that serves as means to your end, becoming valuable as a person, shutting out the noise and distractions.

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Life is a pursuit of happiness, satisfaction and freedom.

If you really think about it, on a fundamental level these 3 aspects are what every human is chasing, whether consciously or subconsciously. It’s mine too.

Nothing more, nothing less.

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