Jan 8, 2021 | My Biggest Little Achievements of 2020 — Part 1.
My biggest little achievements of 2020.
2020 was impossibly long — and to say that it was a good year, would be a far stretch. Yet, I believe that this year allowed us to figure out better what is really important for us — not only at work but also in life — and what is not, and to focus on our core projects. Or at least, it is how it worked for me.
And even if to the outside world, I didn’t achieve anything major this year, I can say that 2020 was full of little wins that have transformed my life for the better. Despite sitting alone in a room for almost the whole year, I developed many habits that are to stay, and I know I will profit from them in the long run. Perhaps, it was the period when I made the fastest personal progress to date.
If I had to summarize my self-development this year in just one sentence, it was a year of getting sane: healing from lots of wrong beliefs, detoxicating my body, cleaning my life from people who were taking a lot of space in it yet failed as friends when I needed them the most. And, cleaning my schedule from unimportant short-term goals. Removing all the unnecessary things — from concepts to people — from your life just feels great.
So, initially, I decided to make a list of these little wins just for myself. But in the end, it came to my mind that perhaps, someone else can profit from some of my ideas too. So, there it is: my top 20 little wins this year — part 1.
20. I Learned Some Basic Facts About Business Development.
…which I also mentioned in the recent YouTube video entitled “Building a business as a PhD: Starting a business in the pandemic and without cash.” To briefly summarize what I’ve learned, doing business makes you sane, down-to-earth, and practical. If you think that scientists also fit this characteristic, I can tell you that as a scientist, I was nowhere near as logical and systematic as I am as a company owner.
An empty fridge is a really good motivator — and as a pedagogic tool, it’s much more efficient than the army of teachers, mentors, friends, and family members that you might have met on your way. Highly recommended if you dare.
19. I Quitted Gambling.
Three years ago, I was excited at the vision of getting “easy profits” from the shitcoin game in the frenzy of late 2017 (which pretty much always ends up in a disaster, as I explained in my recent post)
Now, when the new bull market in the crypto space has started all over again, I was surprised to discover that my attraction to gambling has completely disappeared. I was like a new person with a brand new nervous system; someone who is not impulsive anymore, and who doesn’t easily fall for the bandwagon effect.
Moreover, I finally created a modest financial plan for myself, and this plan included creating a financial cushion this year rather than chasing after easy money. When at the end of the year, I could say that I’ve reached my modest financial targets rather than becoming a gambler once again, I was proud of myself.
What I was able to accomplish is not a fortune but it’s a minimal cushion that I needed to finally feel that I can sleep in the night — after two years of having nothing on my account and feeling deep anxiety for this reason. And this is a good starting point to invest in the future, but this time I will do it right and make well-informed moves where my knowledge meets my intuition, instead of joining a brainless chase after little wins.
Having that said, funny enough, a few days ago, I’ve discovered that I still own a little from a bunch of pot stocks that I bought three years ago and I completely forgot about it — it turned out that its worth went up by 5x since then.
I only learned about it after I noticed some pot stock ads on YouTube. These ads gave me the hint that perhaps, we are going through another bull run in this area. So, I checked my long time forgotten brokers account, and indeed, a nice surprise was waiting for me. Not bad for a person who doesn’t gamble anymore.
You know, everyone has their own, private relationship with money. To me, money has lots to do with karma: the more greedy you are and the more you chase after it, the more it goes away. So, the very moment I stopped gambling was the very moment I started making money — even from the pot stocks.
18. I Improved on My Parallel Learning Skills
Actually, “parallel learning” is a non-existent term but I needed some term to describe a situation in which you learn different things than expected — or when you are looking at problems from a different angle than everybody else. The classic example of a person who used to learn this way might be Steve Jobs who — instead of becoming a master of calligraphy on his retreat from IT industry — used this technique to make computers beautiful.
I always knew that parallel learning is one of the often overlooked yet crucial skills that can decide about the eventual success or failure in business. I remember some situations before 2020 when I already exhibited this skill to some extent. For instance, when I visited a lecture by Craig Wright, a controversial figure in the blockchain industry in the spring of 2018, I learned something from that lecture — but it had nothing to do with blockchains but rather, with academia.
Namely, it was the first time when I realized that in industry, you can go to a conference and express your personality on stage, rather than giving a dry, formal talk as we use to do in the academic setting. It was like enlightenment to me, and a few months later, resulted in releasing my first book — which is not formal at all, and in which I expressed my personality in any way I wanted.
Now that I had a little bit more time to think and to test parallel learning in practice, my skills reached the whole new level. I started importing many concepts and strategies from one area of life to another, and it brought me interesting results. Especially once you start learning business development, it gives lots of interesting possibilities, as you can import the biz dev skills to upgrade the rest of your life.
For instance, I started learning about online marketing which is nothing else than
(1) getting your message out,
(2) figuring out who the right leads might be and where to find them, and
(3) getting to as many leads as possible with your message on your budget (of course, this is a simplification because pro marketing always starts with learning about the problems in the market first and addressing those problems by building a product rather than finding clients for your product)
After no more than a few hours of learning, it came to my mind, “Why not import the same thinking when looking for a partner?” I wrote down a 7-page explanation of what I find important in a partner and why (1), I thought about all the environments where I have well-connected friends who might potentially know such a person, (2), and I sent this file around to those people — with an instruction what to do with it (3).
It was a good move because I would need to know a given person for at least half a year to tell who they really are and if they fit the picture. Thus, I don’t have enough life to learn in-depth about as many people as the network of my friends combined. Plus, quite as in the case of online marketing, sending this stuff around allowed me to delegate tasks, and to keep on making progress even while I was sleeping. It was such a life simplifier… I couldn’t believe I have never thought of this solution before!
I also started using my newly acquired online marketing skills in other contexts. For instance, the rental market went off in the Netherlands, and many rental properties got emptied after the New Year.
I live in a city where life pivots around the university. Since many courses were moved online this year, plenty of foreign students decided to stay home until the next academic year starts in the fall of 2021. This situation made me a bit anxious for a while, as I rent out some rooms in the city. The danger was real, as I noticed some empty rooms in the neighborhood, which I had never seen before.
But then, I went through what I learned from the online marketing courses, and I applied the same mindset and strategy to create good pitches for rental rooms. It took me literally less than an hour to improve. And then, regardless of the difficult market situation, I soon started getting way too many candidates per room. “Damn that works” — I thought to myself, and I felt much more safe and confident ever since.
So, I can say that I’m increasing my parallel learning skills — and it results in many new, unconventional solutions to problems, and in improving on my quality of life in general. Highly recommended!
If you have one transferrable skill, it’s always good to think how you can export that skill beyond its original scope of applications. I know that writing and understanding of sociology/sentiment/human motivations are my personal strengths so I’m now using those skills in many unorthodox ways.
17. I Won a Battle With a Few Monsters Living Under My Bed.
We all have fears. Big fears, small fears, those more rational and those more irrational ones. Fortunately, in 2020 I was way too busy and too occupied with my company to fear from many of the things that I would normally be scared of. If you need to develop a company from scratch and on your own in times of the pandemic, and while being locked in a room, at some point it is no longer about you but rather, it is all about your company. So, if building your company requires getting out of your comfort zone, so be it. As the proverb says, “80% of our fears will never become a reality” and after 2020, I can tell that it’s true.
YouTube is a good example. I already talked about it in the blog post “Mum, Dad, I’m a a YouTuber!” I would never start on YouTube in normal conditions, namely without the necessity to represent my own project in hard conditions on the market.
I would worry a lot, and I would be thinking, “You don’t look like a YouTuber and you don’t sound like a YouTuber, so don’t pack yourself into this.” Now I share the attitude with the Buddhist monks — and as the old Buddhist proverb says, four words pave the path to internal peace. And these words are: “Not my fucking problem.” And, so far so good. “What were you scared of?” — I am now asking myself.
I also had some deep fears related to responsibility. After all, I don’t sell people coffee or shoes — I sell them career advice. And quite often, they take this advice into account while making life-changing decisions. If you make a mistake and instead of milk, you pour juice into a coffee, you’ll just get a cup of disgusting coffee.
However, if you make a school mistake while analyzing career-related data collected from hundreds of people, you might create a tool that confuses thousands and thousands of people. What I do just is responsible. On the one hand, the burden of responsibility makes it exciting, but on the other hand, it makes it pretty scary. Anyway, I got over this crisis now, and my enthusiasm is back.
16. I Got Rid of Some Fake Friends.
As the old proverb says, a friend in need is a friend indeed. Well, this year I learned a lot about some of my “friends” — especially by the occasion of my own PhD party. Namely, in recent years, my financial condition was not the best — I lost money due to circumstances out of my control (theft and such) and I started a company without any capital and right before the crisis. I’m slowly getting back on track, but I can’t call myself wealthy or even financially stable at the moment.
So, in the summer of 2020, my paranymphs sent around invitations to my PhD party, asking the invited people to chip in with some cash for my PhD party gift, making it clear that cash is what I need the most at the moment.
While lots of people chipped in — and some of these people I barely know, which surprised me very positively and truly moved me — the same people who earned a lot of money on my advice in the past few years were not on the list of contributors.
I used to invest on the stock exchange a few years ago (with quite a success), then I bought a house on a bargain, and eventually, I poured some money into crypto; and all of that at a tight time. Many of my “friends” followed my advice and copied exactly what I was doing, making huge gains — yet, they never even said one word of “thank you” and didn’t contribute a penny when I needed help.
It was like a cold shower to me as it showed me how alone I really was, and how much I was surrounded by takers and copycats. I had to clean the landscape from all these people, and there were not too many people left!
You know, it’s a hard time when you get beyond your previous environment but you still didn’t have enough time and opportunity to create yourself a new environment. I know lots of people in startups around the Netherlands but I have no access to these people right now, as they work hard in times of corona, and they rarely join any online meetings. So, I had to accept that although I have space in my life for new people, I have to wait for the opportunity to meet them.
15. I Became Physically Tougher.
Having a company doesn’t allow you for weakness. You are indispensable for your business, thus it’s often the case that you simply can’t take a day off. For instance, I had to record two episodes of the Sunday webinars while staying at home with severe symptoms of coronavirus. I was barely sitting on my chair while recording (I won’t tell you which episodes these were but I think that you couldn’t tell when looking at the screen).
I also had to keep track of a massive number of responsibilities. Because of the overload with work, I almost signed off from a few of them, including writing this blog or going through an intensive course in Dutch. But eventually, The Force gave me the power to keep on going.
In the process, I had to learn better about my limits and adjust my day to my natural capabilities. For instance, in the morning I’m the most creative while in the afternoon, I’m the least productive. Thus, I flipped the order of tasks during my day, and I decided to spend my mornings on deep work, afternoons on resting, and evenings on all the tasks that require communication and/or bureaucracy — instead of spending evenings on resting as most people do.
14. I Learned Some Basic Facts About The Source of Hate and Haters in the World
Once upon a time, I had a very stereotypical picture of a hater in my mind: I thought that most haters are teenagers going through puberty and releasing their anger by pressing thumbs down on YouTube. Or, jobless, obese, middle-aged couch potatoes. Or, elderly people who feel that they no longer have any impact on anything and anyone (which is not true, of course!), and are eager to criticize someone who ended up in a better place in life than they did.
But, this year I learned that in fact, haters are all around. They are often people who are seemingly successful in their lives: those who have achieved wealth and high social status, those who developed a functional family and have an aura of life success.
In fact, these people are often miserable insides they focus on the things they gave up on to get where they are now. So, they become secretly jealous of you—for instance, because you are younger, healthier, frier, or more creative than them, have more friends, more free time, or any other quality that they secretly desire but will not admit in public.
Even some members of my own close family turned out to be haters but I would like to avoid giving the details here. Anyway, it was a sad discovery to me that most people are so focused on the things they don’t have rather than the things they have — even if they truly have a lot.
I also realized that frustration from work is the main reason for hatred. In that sense, helping people get to the point where they are satisfied with their jobs, is also a battle against hatred. And that’s yet another source of motivation to do what I do!
13. I Didn’t Give Up What I was Doing.
… although at times, I was close. I was overwhelmed with work around the company, doing an intensive course in Dutch in the evenings, and I almost quit writing this blog at some point. I was just physically exhausted. But it was exactly at the point when the blog started slowly getting in steam. It was like a little miracle, like a little sign from above!
I hear it from company owners a lot — every time you think you are finally successful, there is yet another obstacle, and every time you are thinking of giving up, there is yet another sign that you should stay on the battlefield.
I also need to say that starting a company is not the most difficult part of the process. People like to think that it’s all about “taking the decision and going for it.” I wish that was true, but in reality, it’s much harder to get through the later stage — the stage in which you already spent a year or more on your company, you have already put a lot of effort into it but your finances don’t reflect your effort just yet. Now I can say that my crisis is over and I’m positive about the future, but the fall of 2020 was not a fun time for me at all.
12. I Polished My Diet.
So, I used to think that my diet was good. After all, I always had a preference for veggies over fast-food, and I kept myself hydrated by drinking lots of water. In recent years, I also used to eat five times a day, and I had my last meal at 6-7 pm. Seemingly, a great diet! Yet, the devil’s in the detail.
This year I had a chance to test new strategies in almost laboratory conditions. There were no confounders, such as these days when you jump on the train to go for a meetup in another city, and you end up with a few bitterballen, French fries, and three glasses of beer for a dinner. So, I could peacefully modify my diet and observe how my mood and body change day by day.
In the end, I introduced a few changes to my diet. I found out that I should keep a few caloric components of my diet ad limitum, for example, limit olive oil, and nuts. I’ve also cut the volume of my breakfasts by 25% and I replaced the yogurt with the addition of fresh forest fruit with a mix of frozen forest fruit with milk and addition of honey.
I got rid of all the refined sugar in fact, and I stuck to honey as the only sweetener I use. I got rid of any fruit except for forest fruit and grapefruits. And such. These seem to be small and meaningless modifications but they have quite an extraordinary impact on my health and body. It’s the first time when I have a six-pack — and I didn’t even spend a minute in the gym! I haven’t caught the flu since November 2019 and I feel much more resilient to disease than before. I didn’t have any mood swings for the whole year.
As a matter of fact, your body is very fragile. Sometimes, just one component in your diet, or one misfortunate combination of components, can make you overweight, physically weak, emotionally unstable, and dysfunctional. And everybody is different. Thus, it’s worth to pay diligence to develop your own, personal diet plan. It’s an investment for life!
11. I Trained My Working Memory
Some people believe that producing content on Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media IS work. However, I believe that the real work — the same as the real life — happens offline. It’s not your social media activity — yet of course, social media is highly addictive.
When your business depends on social media, it’s especially easy to get trapped in this vicious circle when you stay glued to all these online platforms — where you need to show yourself, demonstrate your knowledge, develop your contacts, and get little tokens of attention and appreciation — for the whole day.
Yet, social media is not what decides about the success, it’s only a means of communication of what you’ve accomplished ad developed offline. I like to think that the optimal combination (or at least, the combination optimal for me right now), is 1/3 of the time dedicated to developing new product and new content, 1/3 of the time dedicated to actual billable work, and 1/3 of the time dedicated to social media and marketing. And, since social media gives you the fastest rewards, it needs a lot of self-discipline to keep this balance.
I also had shaky times last summer when I couldn’t catch the proper balance as I felt FOMO every single time I was closing the social media tabs.
In the end, I managed to plan my day so that I can spend mornings in silence, pushing forward all the important projects before I open Pandora’s box and join the social media frenzy later in the day.
The truth is: no one will miss you for eight hours. As a matter of fact, no one would probably miss you even if you were absent for a week or a month, not mentioning about one day. Like becomes way easier when you realize that nobody cares about you at all 🙂
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The next week, I will post the remaining 10 of my biggest little achievements of 2020 here on this blog.
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Please cite as: Bielczyk, N. (2021, January 8th). My Biggest Little Achievements of 2020 — Part 1. Retrieved from https://nataliabielczyk.com/my-biggest-little-achievements-of-2020-part-1/
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If you would like to read more about careers (for PhDs and other white-collar professionals) and effective strategies to self-navigate in the job market, please also take a look at the blog of my company, Ontology of Value where I write posts dedicated to these topics.
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