Lessons learned from my 34th year

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Belinda Fewings

Power of what is possible with belief, support, models, and resources

This is a lesson learned from the second half of the year while at Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB). At the GSB there is a palpable verve of "anything is possible" that is delightfully infectious. I want to internalize this sensation and offer it back to the world.

On campus, it seems like a complex and nuanced recipe cooks up this reality. One ingredient is that we are surrounded by incredibly accomplished individuals who have achieved truly stunning things. Seeing and talking to others, even in different fields, makes ambition feel less ridiculous and more actionable. Then, another important ingredient, we have the counselors and support systems to turn our ambitions into practical next steps. There are experts, coaches, counselors, professors, and our peers that are all ready to hear our ideas and challenge us to try things and grow in a very safe container. And all of that together transmutes into this self-perpetuating reality warp of belief in one's self and one's vision.

One thought for the future is how I can hold on to and propagate this experience. For those around, and especially for our future children, this is a very empowering experience.

Physical community is more connective and empowering (in subtle ways) than online community

This is a direct comparison between my experience at GSB compared to cohort-based courses (CBCs). Both of them have thoughtful, caring, accomplished people that crave and pour themselves into a sense of community. Both of them are interest-oriented and full of supportive individuals. One of them is clearly more potent.

In-person communities are much harder logistically but have multiple direct advantages. A lot has been written about the role of serendipity and quick-connect access in physical vs. remote work environments. Being able to grab a quick tea or go for a walk is infinitely more accessible and enjoyable than jumping on a Zoom or phone call. Plus, a lot more information and warmth are transmitted with body language in person.

For me personally, I find in-person generative and refreshing whereas video calls are depleting and draining. That creates an extra level of inertia or resistance to invite someone on a video call, especially if I've been on Zoom all day for work.

In truth, it's not either-or. Remote is amazing for those that don't have access to local community. Online is fantastic for aligning with similar interests or skills as well as for much larger, global 1:many reach. For me, local and in-person is a welcome counterbalance to my otherwise predominantly screen-based way of life.

Continuous growth through stimulation and challenge is very important to me

Last year I made it a priority to push myself to my edge in a variety of directions.

Most important right now is my intellectual and professional growth. In the first half of the year, I did a number of online CBCs to acquire some practical skills (marketing online courses, writing, personal knowledge management). In the second half at the GSB, I took courses that vastly expanded my horizon of understanding and perception.

Physically I pushed myself hardest running (a little too much too fast, actually). I also grew emotionally with the Dreamscape Weekend resulting in the Best Year Yet with my wife.

Seeking new and unexpected experiences really helps me push my boundaries and constantly challenge myself to reevaluate and grow.

When I'm overloaded, I become desensitized to people

The flip side to pushing myself to learn and grow is taking on too many projects. It's a thin line, certainly, but an important one to tend diligently.

When I feel overwhelmed, I shut down to the experiences of others and become more close-minded and close-hearted. I forget to celebrate and appreciate others. I lose track of details others share with me and become less compassionate.

Coming into next year, I'm closing a number of big projects to focus on doing a few things really well. And leaving space for the joy of the people around me.

Reducing vice consumption yields compound life interest

I've never been big on alcohol, and I went a full year without drinking at all. I've actually enjoyed being one of few sober folks in non-sober settings and showcasing that it's possible. Easier, of course, when there are others like me. And the research is bluntly clear that not drinking alcohol, even in small quantities, is much better for my body and my brain.

In the past, I've been more geared toward cannabis, but I took a year off that as well. This has been much more impactful in my world and is also relatively easy. I've observed a substantial improvement in my brain function, emotional amplitude, parallel processing, sensitivity to others, and body care.

The hardest one for me, by a long shot, is not eating sugar. I took the first three quarters of the year off and turned sugar back on in Q4. It is so insidious! I have a serious sweet tooth and it plays out in micro-decisions every day. Without sugar, I spend less money on treats and have a healthier, more fit body. With sugar, I have a baseline cognition of tracking when I'll get my next hit. The only serious downside is that many celebratory social events include sugar and that's the hardest time to say no for me. Perhaps there will be meaningful exceptions, but the baseline has to be zero tolerance.

Coming into next year, I'm going to keep all three vices default off and enjoy the compound interest of mental and physical clarity.

Having too many information streams feels overwhelming and unproductive

I've got a news feed, multiple Twitter feeds, an Instagram feed, over a dozen newsletters, too many email accounts, books, podcasts, conference recordings, and articles that friends and colleagues lovingly send me. Even typing it up makes me feel exhausted.

When the backlog of content to digest piles up it stresses me out and does not provide value. One of my objectives for this year is to organize and streamline information streams (so I can feel informed and keep learning with appropriate reach and serendipity) without drowning in raging information rivers.

I find tremendous value and meaning in writing a weekly newsletter

Inspired by Nat Eliason and David Perell, I started writing a weekly newsletter called Thriving Thursdays (sign up at the bottom of this page). I could not have fathomed how meaningful this practice has been to me. There are four overarching reasons:

  1. Writing every week forces me to document and synthesize my thoughts from what I've been reading or learning that week
  2. People that do (and don't) know me stay connected and see what I'm thinking about or working on
  3. My newsletter (and website) increases my surface area for serendipity and folks I would be unlikely to meet otherwise have reached out to connect because of resonance and alignment
  4. As a ritualized practice that snowballs diligence and confidence

I've thoroughly enjoyed the process and will continue for the foreseeable future

Design thinking is a radically different approach to life and business

Stanford has a famous Design School that I had the pleasure of intersecting with briefly. Part of that was reading the book Design Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, and part of that was interacting with folks deeply steeped in a "design thinking" worldview. I found these individuals to be playful, creative, and engaging. Most importantly, I found their approach to solving problems or overcoming challenges to be fresh and inspiring. I look forward to learning more and working with design folks in the future.

Diligently designed organizational behavior is a critical consideration for any business

In my first quarter, I was exposed to the field of organizational behavior, the study of how people behave in, around, and with organizations. I think of this as akin to experience design with a longer time and impact horizon. There is a lot of great work coming out of positive organizational and pro-social behavior literature, and I see that field as critically important to thoughtfully designing an organization that propagates positive ripples in the world.

I enjoy public speaking and want to get better at 1-to-many presentations

I have already cultivated some proficiency in public speaking, and there are many more areas where I can further refine to achieve mastery. I have no interest in the limelight for the sake of fame or power, but I do see the value of cultivating a public persona for the sake of furthering the cause of Thriving.

I look forward to nurturing opportunities to practice and refine in the future.

Being the front person for a hospitality business is not for me

Last year I closed down our RV rental business and sold the RV. The business was approaching profitability, and I enjoy creating experiences for others, but running a hospitality business is not for me. Being on call and having to change sheets, clean toilets, and answer every small question that arises is more draining than generative for me.

I will only own an RV (or trailer) if I commit to doing 90+% of the repairs myself

Another lesson from the RV experience is that repairs are time-consuming and expensive. I can imagine owning a van or camper in the future, but I would only undertake that endeavor if I make space to tend to the breakage myself. Those are not skills I'm particularly enthusiastic to develop right now, but I can imagine myself getting more excited about that later at some point, particularly when we have land and space for a workshop.

I am most inspired by regenerative, as contrasted by extractive, business practices

This is a relatively young and nascent field. It's growing and, in my perspective, critically necessary to forestall an implosion of capitalist tendencies to over-extract and over-consume. I am committed to learning more about the people, processes, and problems that come up in this model and how I can implement that which serves in whatever comes next.

Healthcare in the US is one of the most expensive and the least effective of all rich nations

A lot of the work in the healthcare industry today is either exploiting or navigating around broken incentive structures. I will never work for an exploiter. For those trying to fix the system, it's honorable and important work. I'm hopeful we will see significant positive changes in the US healthcare system in my lifetime.

Mental health is experiencing an extreme supply-demand gap with nowhere near enough care providers for the need in the US

Technology may help, and we need every possible tool we can find, but I am hesitant about any technology that introduces more disconnecting qualities into our society.

Group therapy and peer networks seem like important and relatively untapped modalities to help amplify the impact of care providers to bridge the divide.

My sleep routine has a dramatic impact on emotional regulation and sense of presence

Less than 5 hours per night, especially consecutively, has appreciable impacts on my critical thinking capacities. Less than 6 hours per night has subtler, but still noticeable, impacts on memory and sustaining parallel streams of awareness. Less than 7 hours per night, especially for multiple nights, impacts my emotional range, intuition, and presence in less stimulating or engaging spaces. I'm targeting 7 hours in bed for now because 8 feels like a luxury, but hope to work my way up to 8 hrs with time.

My body is healing slower than it used to

I know this is part of aging, but I also think it's related to my nutrition, movement, self-care, and sleep. I'll look to improve those in the coming year to test my hypothesis.

I have lost, and need to focus on regaining, some self-trust

I feel much more inspired and empowered when I can trust my intuition and know that I have the skills to fulfill what I feel called to do. It is important that I dedicate space to attune to my inner wisdom by regaining trust in myself and my capacities. I have specific actions that I've lined up to regain trust in myself this next year.

I don't know where I'm going, but I know exactly how to get there

A quote from Lion Tracker's Guide to Life by Boyd Varty and I absolutely love this sentiment. I am tracking a life path focused on Thriving, and there are no beaten paths to Glory's height. Diligence, precision, awareness, and care illuminate the unfolding way.


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