Annual Birthday Check-In: 10 Lessons from My 32nd Year of Life
I started writing this newsletter when I was 25 years old. Tomorrow, I turn 32.
I started writing this newsletter when I was 25 years old. Tomorrow, I turn 32.
And when you have published a newsletter every single week for seven years straight, you get to reflect. You reflect on how your writing style has changed, how your thinking has changed, but most importantly, how you have changed.
As many of you know, I've been doing annual reflections for the last four years (check out 28, 29, 30, and 31). It’s become one of my most coveted traditions because it forces me to look in the rearview mirror and realize just how many lessons I’ve learned — and how many lessons I’ve had to re-learn.
At 28, I was writing about how you should avoid stepping in “slush puddles” in the winter, and just three years later, I was reflecting on being a mom to a nine-month-old. Your life could look completely different in three years, three months, or even three days. That’s the terrifying and beautiful thing about being human.
In the last year, I wrote and published a book, attempted to survive the sleepless nights of new parenthood, and navigated the ups and downs of life.
I hope you find my insights useful, and I look forward to hearing from you.
1. Serendipity is always lurking
On February 16 of 2022, an editor named Chris Parker at the publisher Harriman House saw my Profile Dossier on entrepreneur Melanie Perkins and liked my writing, so he sent me a quick message: “I really enjoyed your thread on Canva and Melanie Perkins and am hugely impressed with what you're building at The Profile! If your thoughts ever turn to writing a book, we'd love to chat with you.”
That quick message evolved into a phone call which evolved into a book proposal which evolved into a whole damn book.
One big, important lesson I learned over the last year is that serendipity is always lurking. Everything that you put out into the world can land in the most unexpected places (or inboxes) and be seen by the most unlikely people.
2. You will miss tomorrow the things you take for granted today
Morgan Housel recently shared the following quote by Aldous Huxley: “Man has an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”
I audibly groaned when I read the tweet. It’s true, it’s frustrating, and it’s a constant challenge. Those things you assume will be there forever? They’ll be gone in a flash.
It’s so unbelievable easy to get preoccupied with trifles of everyday life, but you have to fight that with every bone in your body.
As Brené Brown once said, “We chase extraordinary moments instead of being grateful for ordinary moments until hard shit happens. And then in the face of really hard stuff — illness, death, loss — the only thing we’re begging for is a normal moment.”
3. Competence builds confidence
You have no idea how much of my life I’ve spent avoiding solo speaking opportunities. So when I was asked to give a keynote speech at a conference, I felt a shiver shoot down my spine.
I tried to have them change it from a keynote speech to a keynote fireside chat. I tried to ask for a podium. I asked if I could have a piece of paper with my notes up there. I asked for anything that would divert the attention away from me standing awkwardly alone on stage.
And then finally, I thought, “You have an entire chapter on mental toughness in your book. Get it together.”
So I agreed to do the damn speech. (You can watch it here.) It taught me that public speaking isn’t lethal, and that once you step off the stage, you have an ounce more confidence than you did before stepping on it. So when invited, make it a point to step on the stage.
4. Pressure is anticipatory
In the last year, I’ve learned that the only way to cure impostor syndrome is to start. Pressure is often anticipatory — you worry about a speech you haven’t yet given and you feel pressure about a book you haven’t yet written.
Only once you start can you remind yourself that you possess that skillset no one can take from you. If you’ve done it once, you can do it again.
5. Be someone’s ‘sunny spirit’ in the unspeakably difficult moments
In the acknowledgements section of my book Hidden Genius, I write: “To my parents, who sacrificed everything to move to a foreign country in pursuit of a better life. Those early years in the United States were unspeakably difficult, but I’ll never forget the moments of joy and laughter along the way.”
Because that’s the thing I’ve realized in the last 23 years: It’s true that the early days were difficult. Unspeakably difficult. But during those days of uncertainty and chaos, there was always the certainty of … us. My best memories were formed during that time because of a well-timed joke, a language mix-up, or the first time I encountered a breaded, deep-fried, sausage on a stick you Americans call “a corn dog.”
I hope this serves as a reminder that no matter what mountain you’re climbing right now, there’s always the opportunity for a moment of levity in an otherwise painful situation. As Mark Twain said, “Humor is the great thing, the saving thing after all. The minute it crops up, all our hardnesses yield, all our irritations, and resentments flit away, and a sunny spirit takes their place.”
6. Learn to trust your voice
When I was 24 years old, I interviewed a psychic for an article I was writing for Fortune magazine about about corporate “intuitive counselors” — some charging as much as $10,000 per month — that advise CEOs and high-profile business clients.
Beyond the fact that she accurately senses that I would start working on “another body of work” while still at my job (The Profile) and that I would eventually write a book (Hidden Genius), the part that struck me most wasn’t any sort of ‘prediction.’
It was this:
“The biggest problem you have is not trusting that you have a voice — that you actually have something to say. That is beyond interviewing people or whatever. You really have something to say. That’s why I thought it was interesting that you’re only 24 and yet your finger is on the pulse of the zeitgeist, and you understand it in a much more complex way, which is beyond your years.”
“You need to just do it. You can’t wait until you think you’re ready. You just gotta do it. You gotta feel the fear and do it anyway.”
I wonder just how many entrepreneurs, CEOs, and regular people seek out spiritual counselors like Colette for this very reason: It’s an affirmation of your identity.
It’s the validation of things you already know but need an external push to pursue. It’s needing someone to tell you “trust your voice” until you look back at that fearful 24-year-old and think, “Damn. I wish it hadn’t taken me eight years to trust my own voice and pursue my dreams.”
7. Sometimes, what you think is luck may not be luck
I learned this lesson after my interview with UFC champion Francis Ngannou. I told him that my family won the green card lottery to come to the United States. So I asked him if he believed in luck.
Here’s what he told me:
Sometimes, what you think is luck might not be luck. If I had won the American green card lottery, I don't think I’d end up where I am today. Maybe it would change my path. Maybe I would just get there with my green card and have a common job, you know, be a security guard or whatever.
And for a guy coming from here, it’s like you made it. But that wasn’t my dream. So not winning the American lottery got me to go through this obstacle, which is what forged the person that I am today.
In other words, not winning the lucky green card lottery ended up being the lucky thing for Ngannou. This completely reframed my perspective on luck.
8. Do the nonsensical thing that makes you happy
If I had a dollar for the number of times I said the following in the last year: “I know it doesn’t make logical sense, but…” For all the optimizing and productivity and organizing we do, we should also spend time doing the opposite. The most amazing decisions of my life didn’t make any sense to the outside world, yet they felt good in my heart.
It’s a lesson I’m learning over and over again: You can’t think your way to happiness. You have to act. And sometimes, those actions may seem inordinately absurd to society at large, but if they make you happy, then you don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself.
I’ll leave you with my favorite part of Anna Quindlen’s commencement speech:
“When I quit the New York Times to be a full-time mother, the voices of the world said that I was nuts. When I quit it again to be a full-time novelist, they said I was nuts again. But I am not nuts. I am happy. I am successful on my own terms. Because if your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all.”
9. Extraordinary moments are simply ordinary moments laced with context
The first time that I saw my book in a bookstore, it was an indescribable feeling. I had butterflies in my stomach, my face felt hot, and I was completely absorbed in the moment. It was extraordinary, but also hilariously ordinary.
When I saw a man leafing through the book, I felt like a ghost lurking around him. He had absolutely no idea the hours, the sweat, the tears, the worries, and the excited typing that went into this book that ended up on this exact shelf at this exact moment.
To him, it was just another book on another shelf on another Sunday at Barnes & Noble.
To me, it was everything.
It’s the feeling after you get the courage to quit your job and your head is spinning only to see people mindlessly scrolling on their phones on the subway. It’s bringing your newborn home from the hospital and seeing people strolling into the Starbucks across the street.
You’re bursting on the inside, but the outside seems to have missed the message.
This is what I call the “ghost” feeling — it’s like your entire world has shifted but everyone else is going about their day as if things have remained exactly the same.
It’s extraordinary only for you.
Because this is the greatest lesson I learned in the last year: Extraordinary moments are simply ordinary moments laced with context. We can have more of them by simply playing a mental movie of where we’ve been, what we’ve done, and how we’ve gotten here.
10. Time is a currency you only spend once
Remember, we’re all investors in this life. No, I’m not talking about money. I’m talking about time. As the quote goes: “Time is a currency you can only spend once, so be careful how you spend it.”
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