10 Lessons I Learned in 2014

With all its ups and downs, 2014 has been quite a year.

In terms of “successes,” I think it’s been my best year yet.

Today, I want to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way.

1. Stop thinking, start doing.

I first started thinking about starting a blog about three years ago. But I didn’t think I was ready. I kept coming up with excuses.

“What would I write about? Who would read it? Am I a good enough writer? How do I even get started?”

On June 30, 2013, I bought the domain name for Collegetopia.co and wrote my first article. I still didn’t really know what I was doing, but I finally realized that “not feeling ready” is just an excuse to keep putting things off.

It’s been a long journey since the beginning, but I’ve learned so much in the process, and things are only getting better. I’m nearing 400,000 total page views, I have 330 newsletter subscribers, I recently did my first podcast interview (I have another one lined up for next month), and I’m working on my first eBook (which will be a free gift for all of my subscribers!).

My only regret? I wish I had started sooner.

There’s never a “right” time to start something.

The perfect time to start something is before you feel ready.”

If you really, genuinely want do something, stop putting it off for tomorrow. Start today. Start now.

No one knows exactly what they’re doing when they’re starting something new. To be honest, I still don’t know what I’m doing with this blog half the time. But guess what? Eventually, you’ll figure things out.

The longer you wait, and the more you think about it, the less likely you are to actually do it.

Over-thinking creates anxiety, and anxiety prevents action.

This is (one of the many reasons) why I take cold showers.

Because they serve as a constant reminder to me that the longer you hesitate, the harder it becomes.

Stop wasting time thinking, and start doing.

2. Work hard; forget about the outcomes.

There’s no way around hard work if you want to be successful. But just because you work hard on something, doesn’t guarantee that it’s going to be successful.

At the end of the day, we have no control over the outcomes of our life. We can’t predict how people will respond to our work. All we can do is give our best effort, and then hope for the best.

If you don’t get the outcome you were hoping for, don’t stop. Keep working hard.

This is how you succeed. This is how “overnight successes” happen. After many, many failures.

When I first started my blog, for six full months I had no traffic to my website. I was basically writing to myself. But then one day, one of my articles exploded on StumbleUpon, and within a week I had over 100,000 page views and my first 100 subscribers.

I’m reading a book right now called Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon, and in one chapter he talks about Sturgeon’s Law (from science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon), which says that 90 percent of everything is crap — including our own work.

The only way to know what’s good and what’s not, is to get your work in front of other people and see how they react.

Sometimes I spend hours and hours writing an article, thinking that it’s going to be my next lucky break, but then it turns out to be a dud.

Other times, I’ll write an article in 30 minutes, thinking that it’s pretty mediocre, and it ends up getting more likes and shares than the articles that I spent hours on. It’s a strange, but surprisingly common occurrence.

Life is unpredictable.

Don’t worry about hitting a home run every time you’re up at bat. Just keep hitting, and eventually you will get the homeruns.

3. Take risks.

I took an improv class last semester. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard.

Given that I’m an engineer, improv is definitely not my forte.

At first, it was very difficult for me to go up to the front of the class and willingly make a fool of myself. I was stiff and awkward and extremely uncomfortable. But once I stopped worrying about looking silly and just let loose, it got so much easier. And so much more fun.

Because taking risks is what makes improv fun. Sometimes they play out well, other times they don’t. But it doesn’t matter, because the scene moves on. And every new scene is a new opportunity to try new things, and take more risks.

Life is also more fun when you take risks. As Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage.”

You’ll never know what you missed out on, unless you put yourself out there. 

4. Be more vocal.

I don’t like confrontation. I generally try to avoid arguments. So when someone does something that bothers me, I usually just let it slide.

I think that sometimes this is the best thing to do. There’s no point in getting all worked up and creating a scene when some random drunk guy at a bar accidentally bumps into you. Nothing good is going to come of it.

But in other situations, if you don’t say something, things will only get worse.

Almost every problem, whether in business or in personal relationships, is caused by some sort of miscommunication.

Just because something might seem obvious to you, that doesn’t mean it’s obvious to everyone else. The only way to be certain that other people see what you see is to speak up.

Never make assumptions. People can’t help you if they don’t know what you need help with.

As one of my mentors told me this summer during my internship, “Know what you want and make it known.

Tell people exactly what it is that you want, and be specific. Worst thing that will happen is they will say no.

5. Breathe.

I’ve already talked a little bit about the unpredictability of life — about how we can’t control the outcomes of our efforts.

Now I’m going to take it a step further and encourage you to learn to welcome adversity into your life. Because while we don’t control the things that happen to us, what we do control, and all that matters, is how we respond to those things.

When shit happens, you have two choices. You can complain, cry, and curse at the universe, or, you can accept it and move on.

You cannot change the outer event, so you must change the inner experience. This is the road to mastery in living.” –  Neal Donald Walsch

The more productive course of action is to choose the latter.

In times of stress, or pressure, or hardship, we often let our emotions get the best of us, and we start to panic, which leads to irrational decisions that we usually end up regretting later.

During these situations, remember to breathe.

Be aware of your emotions, let yourself experience them, but then separate yourself from your them.

Try to look at things objectively. Choose to think logically, not emotionally.

Nothing is inherently good or bad, unless you label it to be. Obstacles aren’t roadblocks, but rather opportunities to change, improve, and grow stronger.

6. You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.

I used to have this thing called an “impossible list,” which is a cool variation to a bucket list.

Basically, while a bucket list is full of dreams and aspirations you hope to achieve someday, the impossible list is something you actively live out and work towards everyday. Rather than waiting until you’re on your deathbed, the impossible list forces you to start taking action now. This is good.

But the problem with an impossible list, for me at least, was that I had a hard time focusing on my priorities.

Everything on my impossible list was something that I cared about, or I wouldn’t have put it on there in the first place. But that was the issue — I wanted to do it ALL.

As David Allen, creator of the Getting Things Done (GTD) time management method, says, “You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.”

I recently wrote a post about Warrant Buffet’s “2 List” Time Management Strategy.

I won’t go into the details of how it works (just read the post), but basically, this strategy forces you to focus on your MOST important goals, and nothing else.

Anything that’s not directly helping you achieve your most important goals is, directly or indirectly, preventing you from achieving those goals.

Since implementing this “2 List” strategy in my own life, I’ve been making huge leaps of progress on my goals.

7. Surround yourself with the right people.

Environment is everything.

According to Scott Dinsmore of Live Your Legend, “The biggest single predictor of success (however you want to define it) is the people who surround you.”

Whether you realize it or not, the people who surround you can either make or break you. So make it a priority to find and put yourself in environments with passionate people – people who have already achieved what you want to achieve.

But surrounding yourself with the right people is only half of the equation. Scott Dinsmore also touches on the other half, which is to “Fire people who don’t contribute to the dream.

Get rid of the wrong people. The people that bring you down. The people who don’t believe in you. The people who suck the energy out of you.

If you’re serious about moving forward in your life, don’t let anyone hold you back.

After all, you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Choose them wisely.

8. Be more honest. 

Being open and honest about what you like, what you don’t like, and what you believe in is the best way to connect with people who like and believe in those things, too.

Stop caring about what EVERYBODY thinks, and just care about what the RIGHT people think (see #7).

If your beliefs change, that’s okay. It’s not a crime to change.

I’m trying to take this blog to the next level, so recently I’ve been trying to be more honest and open in my writing– even if that means contradicting myself.

So far, things are going pretty well.

With that, please realize that nothing I write on here is definitive. Everything I say here is based on my personal opinion, from my personal experiences, and liable to change.

I’ve noticed that the smartest people are the people who are willing to admit that they were wrong, learn from their mistakes, and make adjustments accordingly.

We tend to have a very strong natural bias towards ourselves in order to rationalize and justify our faults, which makes it hard for us to change our minds, even when we know we are wrong. Don’t be like that.

We also tend to be hard on others, but easy on ourselves. Don’t be like that, either.

Really, we should be hardest on ourselves and easier on everyone else.

Be brutally honest with yourself. Especially when you’ve failed. Ask yourself the tough questions, and don’t stop until you get to the bottom of it.

9. Live without regrets.

I know it sounds cliche, but living with regret sucks you into a black hole of “what ifs” that changes nothing. If anything, it makes things worse.

On the other hand, believing that everything that happened is exactly what was meant to happen forces you to find meaning in the otherwise meaningless, to learn from your mistakes, and to grow stronger during times of struggle.

It turns the bad into the good.

Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” – John Wooden

Whenever something really shitty happens in your life, at least try to get something out of it.

The reason why the best poker players always win isn’t because they always get the best cards, it’s because they know how to play their cards well, no matter what they are.

Learn to play with the cards you’ve been dealt.

10. Enjoy the present.

My biggest fear in life is not living up to my fullest potential.

That’s why I don’t like standing in one spot for too long. That’s why I’m constantly on the move.

Because I don’t want to get stuck. I want to keep moving forward.

But sometimes, because I’m always rushing from point A to point B, I forget enjoy the present moment– the only thing that’s actually real.

It’s good to look back and learn from your mistakes, and even better to look forward and set new goals, but the best thing you can do is look at what’s around you, right now, and appreciate it.

That doesn’t mean become complacent. It means be grateful.

No matter where you are right now, I promise you there’s something you can be grateful for.

True happiness is… to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

We like to think that reaching certain milestones in our lives will make us happier, but if you’ve noticed, we usually don’t end up feeling much different. We might experience a short burst of “happiness” after certain milestones, but that happiness quickly fades away.

If you’re not happy now, in this very moment, you’ll never be happy.

Image Source: picjumbo

About Stefano

Stefano Ganddini

Hey there! I'm the creator of Collegetopia and the guy who writes all these articles. I'm here to help you live BIG, do EPIC shit, & be HAPPY. Click here to read more.

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  • Love this review, Stefano. The last bit is especially good to take to heart; you’re absolutely right that we tend to remain about as happy as we’ve always been even after we cross lots of achievements off our lists. One of my goals for 2015 is to give myself more focused “off-time” to enjoy friends and relax, which will necessarily require becoming more efficient in the work hours.

    Hope your 2015 kicks ass!

    • Thanks, Thomas! Looking forward to seeing all the great things you have planned for 2015.

  • Rusty

    Love your words.


  • Awesome stuff Stefano. Looking forward to connecting with you soon.