The end of the year is a good time to reflect on what’s happened and plan for the next twelve months. I’ve never published my annual review before, but this year, I decided to record and share my experiences with you.
By sharing my highs and lows I am pursuing two primary goals.
First, writing an annual review is a great way to reflect on your life. Writing helps clarify your thinking and allows you to analyze what happened and what needs changing. Since I want to write more often in 2020, why not start with an annual review?
Second, I want to be more transparent about my challenges. There are a lot of inspirational stories that people like to share but there are also low moments that we don't want others to know.
While the primary goals of this annual review are self-reflection and self-improvement, I'd be happy if, after reading it, at least one person decides to take action.
Here’s a list. Read on for the details.
Things to Celebrate
- Read 52 books
- Morning routine
- Morning pages (Kundalini yoga, meditation, cold showers)
Things to learn from & change
- Startup failure
- Mental health
- Smoking tobacco
- Twitter addiction
Random Things I've Learned
Things to Learn and Write About
Things I'd Like to Improve
2020 Goals (Shortlist)
Things to celebrate:
Read 52 Books
In 2019, my goal was to read 52 books and I'm happy to say that I achieved it. It was easier than I thought. Reading is a very meditative activity, and requires concentration. When your mind goes into a negative or unhealthy pattern of thinking, reading not only distracts but also relaxes your mind by occupying it with new ideas, frameworks, and stories. Reading is a good way to take a break from high-intensity creative work. It's a great way to spend time in airports and while you are flying. And, finally, reading can help you get unstuck by providing ideas on how to improve your current process or thinking. This challenge started as a way to test my commitment to an annual goal that requires significant time. It ended with an enjoyable habit that improves my life daily.
Over the last two years, I’ve kept a list of all the books that I read. I score them on a 10-point rating system. Out of 52 books, ten were audiobooks. I find it difficult to listen to serious books in audio format but for biographies or story-like genres, it works well.
My Top Rated books of 2019:
- The Score Takes Care of Itself, by Bill Walsh | 9.7/10
This is one of the best books on leadership that I've ever read. Bill Walsh is a legendary football coach and even if you don't know anything about American football you will find tons of leadership lessons that you can apply to any area or environment.
- “Focus on the fundamentals of your craft and the rest will follow. It's not about end results, it's about the process. If you left it all on the field and you lost, you are still a winner.”
- "Losing, however you define it, even the thought of losing, can be become so psychologically crippling that winning offers little solace and no cause for celebration because you're imposed an internal accounting system on yourself that awards zero points for winning and minus points for losing. You can never get ahead on points."
2. How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us, by Michael Pollan | 9.7/10
How to Change Your Mind is the most researched and complete book on psychedelics. Pollan is a great writer and his story into exploring the psychedelic experiences is captivating.
- "R. D. Laing once said there are three things human beings are afraid of — death, other people, and their own minds."
3. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, by Carl Sagan | 9.4/10
Why do we believe in pseudoscience? You can train your mind to be critical about the information you come across.
4. Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown | 9.3/10
Brene Brown is a national treasure. I highly recommend her special on Netflix. Her books are amazingly entertaining and motivating. The courage of being vulnerable leads to better outcomes and happier life.
"It's not the critic who counts….. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcomings…. Who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly…." - Theodore Roosevelt.
5. The Grand Design, by Hawking & Mlodinow | 9.3/10
If you want to understand how the universe works and how physics impacts our daily life, start with this book. This year I made my goal to read more books on physics and this is the absolute best. It's easy to read and it explains complicated principles in an easy way.
6.Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination, by Neil Gabler | 9.3/10
7. Homo Deus, by Yuval Noah Harari | 9.3/10
8. The War on Normal People, by Andrew Yang | 9.2/10
9. The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield | 9.2/10
10. The True Believer, by Eric Hoffer | 9.2/10
11. Rules For Radicals, by Saul Alinsky | 9.1/10
12. The Messy Middle, by Scott Belsky | 9.1/10
13. Reality in Advertising, by Rosser Reeves | 9.0/10
14. Lead The Field, by Earl Nightingale | 9.0/10
15. Scientific Advertising, by Claude Hopkins | 9.0/10
16. The Post Office, by Charles Bukowski | 9.0/10
17. 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, by Yuval Harari | 9.0/10
Here is the full list of books I read and am currently reading, including my ratings.
My fiancee gave me The Artist's Way Workbook, by Julia Cameron. In it, Cameron explains how artists can rediscover themselves and cultivate their creative flow. The first step that she advocates is to write daily morning pages. Morning pages consist of free form writing for three pages. You can write about anything-- what you want to do today, what happened yesterday, how you feel, or what bothers you. Anything goes as long as you write three pages every morning. It was difficult at first but since I started this daily morning practice in the middle of November I feel noticeably better.
Morning pages allow you to take some of your obsessive thoughts and move them onto the paper and out of your mind. Afterward, you feel more relaxed and more content. This is a habit I want to keep. There is a positive side effect of this activity — even though you write about things you feel and know you practice daily to express yourself in writing.
In August, I spent two days in Northern California experiencing a psychedelic mushroom ceremony. My shaman was also a Kundalini yoga instructor and yoga was part of my psychedelic experience. Every day, he wakes up before sunrise accompanied by the chanting music. Then he spends 20-40 minutes doing Kundalini yoga. At that time my back was bothering me and yoga helped. I enjoyed Kundalini yoga so much that I decided to incorporate twenty minutes of yoga into my daily morning routine. And since August, I do a set of Kundalini yoga exercises every morning. My well being has improved significantly doing just twenty minutes of yoga daily.
Another bonus of this psychedelic experience was trying three-day water-only fasting. It’ is something I want to do more of in 2020. Ideally, I'd like to fast for 2-4 days every month in 2020. It is not easy but it is a very doable and achievable goal.
Since I completed my 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat in 2015 I have made a habit to meditate daily for about 15-20 minutes. I did that this year. There were a few exceptions, like when I had early morning flights, but for the most part, my daily morning routine includes at least 15 minutes of meditation.
I’ve been trying Wim Hof's breathing exercises since 2016. And I’ve tried to incorporate cold showers in the morning. In 2019, I finally made a habit of taking a cold shower every day. I don't just start or finish my showers in cold water. My morning shower is done completely in cold water. Typically, it takes about 3-5 minutes. The rush of energy coming from a cold shower is intoxicating (in a good way). For the whole year, I only skipped a few days due to travel, camping, or other unforeseen circumstances. I'm happy this activity became the core piece of my morning routine.
I'm proud of the improvements and changes I made to my morning routine in 2019. It didn't take me just one year. As I mentioned, I started meditating in 2016. And I have experimented with morning cold showers in 2017 and 2018. But this year, I finally took the next step and made it a consistent element of my morning routine. Consistency is key for creating a long-lasting habit and routine of any kind.
Some of my friends ask me how long it takes to complete my morning routine and where I get time for it. The morning routine described above takes between 45-60 minutes. Occasionally, there are days when I only have 30 minutes and I try to adjust my routine to fit that time (for example, by doing morning pages and meditation while moving yoga to later in the day). The key to fitting the morning routine into your schedule is to establish an effective sleep schedule. My goal is to go to bed by 10:30 pm and wake up at 6:30 am. This way I get enough sleep and I have a full hour between 6:30-7:30 am to complete my morning routine in full.
In my 20s, I didn’t have a chance to travel much. My first trip to any country in the European Union was after I turned thirty. There’s nothing more important than traveling when it comes to broadening and stretching your views. Traveling makes you more open-minded.
Travel more often. The younger you are the more you should prioritize traveling.
Where I Visited This Year
- Lima, Peru
- Minks, Belarus
- Kyiv, Ukraine
- Barcelona, Spain
- Austin, Texas
- Death Valley, California
- A 31-mile hike in 8 hours: I completed a 31-mile hike in 8 hours (pace: ~16min per mile) - The Skyline to the Sea Trail in the Valley.
- Presented at iForum in front of 1,000 people about Content Strategy | How to grow 10x with your content.
Things to Learn From and Then Change:
For almost two years, I have been working on Publishnow. The idea to build a publishing platform that makes it easy for anyone to start a blog and grow their audience first surfaced in 2017 when I was working at Aptrinsic.
Additionally, as a consultant, I have seen companies and especially content managers and writers struggling with making beautiful articles and engaging their readers. Traditional CMS’s, built decades ago, are not making it easy for writers to engage and grow their readers.
My vision is to build a content publishing platform for writers that requires no code, no plugins, and no markdown. I spent a few years writing and building my audience on Medium. While Medium made it easy to publish beautiful content it lacks three very important aspects.
First, you can't connect your domain. Second, you don't own your relationship with readers; there is no way for you to email your subscribers and no way to add native calls-to-action or see in-depth analytics on your audience. Third, Medium doesn't integrate with your Google Docs and Dropbox Paper to make publishing a more seamless process.
Sharing my experiences and lessons from Publishnow requires a separate article. I intend to write one about my Publishnow journey and also one about the publishing industry, which I I have learned a lot about in the past.
But let's outline key points:
- I spent the first 6 months recruiting co-founders
- We built a working product released to four companies.
- Got rejected by YC three times: W19, S19, and W20
- Pivoted from focusing on selling to companies to individual writers (I should have seen this earlier)
- Failed to raise seed funding
- Co-founder quit
- Failed to recruit the core team
I still believe that content publishing is a very attractive industry that has tons of opportunities. Some of the largest publications are built on WordPress: The Washington Post, Techcrunch, and millions of others.
I've learned the things that you hear about a lot when it comes to startups. It’s one thing to hear and understand them but it's another thing to experience and feel the pain of failure.
- People: It's critical to have a team of co-founders that have matching skills, personalities, and vision.
- Commitment: Some kind of magic happens when people commit to something.
- Velocity: It's important to figure out the direction you want to go as a team. But after the direction is set, it almost doesn't matter what you do as long as you have the velocity to iterate fast while receiving continuous feedback loops.
- Community or Ecosystem: It helps to have people around that you can talk to, who can provide honest feedback, or who can send an introduction.
Unfortunately, this year I struggled with anxiety and depression. My startup was the primary source of my worries and concerns. From one standpoint, I was trying to get my team to commit to the idea. Then, we had to pivot from focusing on organizations to focusing on individual writers and small companies. This is my fourth or fifth failed attempt at building a software company.
I very rarely drink and I can easily go without any alcohol for months. However, this year I have picked up smoking tobacco. It's horrible and it's bad for you (duh!). This is something I'm changing now.
4. Twitter addiction
I don't spend much time on social media. I'm not active on Facebook and while I use Instagram I'm not someone who spends time scrolling the feed. But this year I got addicted to Twitter. My goal is to use Twitter in a more productive way. I believe it's a great platform but there are potential side effects, especially, if like me you’re interested in politics, startups, VC, and economics.
Random things I've learned:
Yale Lectures: Power and Politics in Today's World
If you’re interested in politics, I highly recommend listening to these great lectures on Power and Politics Today by Ian Shapiro. This is what the Internet is for - thank you, Internet!
- Think, speak and act as the person you want to be.
- Question the stories you tell yourself. Most, if not all of them, are not real.
- Perfection is the enemy of change.
- "If you want to learn something - teach it." - Feynman
- Personal beliefs don't have to be true as long as they are helpful.
- Take mistakes seriously but never personally.
- Start from first principles.
People I've discovered and learned from in 2019:
Things to Learn and Write About:
- In 2017-18, I focused on reading more about marketing and psychology.
- In 2019, my goal was to read more about politics and physics.
- In 2020, I want to read more about philosophy and economics.
Also, my goal is to write a few in-depth essays about the content publishing industry and its trends.
Things I'd Like to Improve
- Get out more and meet more people.
- Figure out who is on my team.
- Write and release content more often.
- Fight perfectionism. It's the enemy!
- Accept being exposed. Fail publicly.
- Focus on my purpose, figure out my competitive advantage.
- Mental health is critical in every aspect of life.
2020 goals (shortlist):
- Launch a marketing course in Q1
- Conduct regular webinars (12-24 webinars in 2020)
- Write daily and publish weekly
- Finish a draft of my book about marketing in Q2
- Generate $5K in monthly revenue through scalable channels