35 Principles for 35 Years

I turn 35 today. Here are 35 principles I have accumulated and try to live by (you can listen to the narrated version here):

  1. Life is too Short for Short Term Games. We only have so many years for long term games to compound.

  1. Writing is Stupendously High Leverage.
  • It helps to organize my thoughts and learning (aka Building My Second Brain). I win even if nobody reads me.
  • It enables me to share great ideas even while I sleep (as a Friendcatcher). I am constantly shocked at the caliber of people that read my work and DM me their thoughts. There is absolutely no other way I would be on their radar.
  • Blogging helped me sell $4k worth of an empty PDF on the day I decided to write my book because people trusted me.
  • It’s led to multiple job opportunities from great companies (e.g. Netlify, AWS, Temporal) that I would have otherwise struggled to be hired at.
  1. Learn in Public. Most of you know me for this one… (read up if you’re new round here, welcome!)

  2. Good Enough is Better than Best. In a world of infinite abundance, you can lose yourself constantly chasing the hottest new thing. Satisfice rather than Maximize.

  3. Less is More. Minimalism wins: Subtracting is harder than Adding. Quantity reduces perceived quality. Depth and whitespace stand out. (yes I realize the irony of this principle in a list of 35)

  4. Create Clarity. Simple Explanations of What, Why, and How are extremely underrated and extremely useful. This is also a core skill of all leaders.

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  5. Optimize for Change. Optimizing for anything else tends to make systems MORE fragile, not less. If you learn only one lesson from React and GraphQL, learn How to Optimize for Change

  6. Seek First To Understand, Then To Be Understood. Don’t get defensive about your point of view or perception of reality - understand theirs first. Either you will learn something new or you’ll understand how to better get your point across. Hold multiple perspectives in your head and be able to summarize the best arguments of all major parties in a way that THEY agree with.

  7. Praise in Public, Criticize in Private.

  • As satisfying as it might be to dump on someone publicly, I need to remember how it makes them feel.
  • Everything is not awesome, and I despise fake positivity. But I can either help or make them feel bad about it and the former is more effective than the latter.
  • Exception for companies and people that are actively harming or misleading the vulnerable.
  1. Build an Empathy Check Habit. I can’t take back an impulsive response that hurts someone. When I can’t check with trusted friends, I need to think before I tweet.
  2. People remember how you made them feel, before what you said. A good story has more power than a good argument.
  3. Treat Others How They Want To Be Treated. The Golden Rule is -sadly- not good enough when your privilege is higher or expectations are lower than others’. Time for The Platinum Rule.
  4. Complete Truths are Not Welcome.
  • Most people are more interested in…
    • being entertained
    • sharing outrage
    • feeling good about themselves
    • defending their reputation
  • …than debating truth or improving themselves.
  • Trying to change them is ineffectual.
  • Let them be, and seek out like minds.
  1. Organize IRL Events. You can do a lot to create excitement and connection in a community simply by organizing dinners and meetups and conferences. Svelte Society started on a whim exactly like this. Now there are thousands of members drawn to the Svelte community that wouldn’t have before.

  2. Don’t offer unsolicited help. Make Sure Help Is Wanted Before Offering It. Men - be especially wary about this when women are talking about their problems. Sometimes they just need support, not solutions. (But sometimes it really IS about The Nail…)

  3. Ask For Help More. People are happy to help and like you more when they have helped you. Don’t worry about showing weakness; you are getting something far more valuable in return. Use a Help Timeout.

  4. Log Your Wins. e.g. when you ship something big or small, or when someone says nice things about you. They can help when you are feeling emotionally down, or when writing a brag document. Help others celebrate their wins too. P.S. a brag slack channel can serve as an OLTP store of personal wins.

  5. Don’t End The Week With Nothing. The reason you don’t see any of my work prior to 2017 is because I thought it was sufficient to just work hard at my finance job. Now all of my intellectual output from my 20’s - some of the best research and writing I have ever done - is locked up in some mailbox somewhere. Never again.

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  6. Pick Up What They Put Down. Guarantee feedback by giving feedback. https://www.swyx.io/puwtpd

  7. Speak Succinctly. Stop speaking in trailing sentences and double-barreled questions. Set the general direction and shut up. If they’re off-track, interject. This is preferable to preempting all conversation paths to show how smart you are.

  8. Optimize for Retention, not Consumption. We are the sum total of still-relevant knowledge we still remember, not the total of the volume of content we consume.

  9. Illustrate Your Point. Adding code samples or drawing 2x2’s and system diagrams makes your idea much more effective. A picture IS worth a thousand words! Even this shitty example works, you can do better than me.

  10. Separate Your Identity from Your Work. You can learn a lot on the Internet for the low, low price of $YOUR_EGO.

  11. Build Tools For Yourself. This is a superpower and a sandbox all rolled in one that is guaranteed to make you happy.

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  12. Collect Questions

  • Obsess on collecting good answers and you might be precise but irrelevant.
  • Obsess on collecting good questions and you will be approximately right.
  • My Work-in-Progress list of questions here, but see also the Reverse Interview repo and Feynman’s 12 Problems.
  1. Systems > Goals. “You don’t rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” — James Clear

  2. Play Games You Cannot Win. Our world is full of “winnable” games - likes, retweets, #1 of the day, employee of the month. External motivators destroy our intrinsic drive. You don’t play infinite games to win. Only way to keep childlike creativity is to play games that you cannot win.

  3. Use Your Calendar as a Todo List. Normal todo lists don’t force you to make tradeoffs. Sequence your work, set limits, and know when to decline or delegate tasks. When time block planning, eat your frog: Put First Things First.

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  4. Practice Stoicism. It’ll never stay as great as you want, it’s never really as bad as you feel. This, too, shall pass.

  5. Have a Productivity Keystone. If you start a day unproductive, you are extremely likely to be unproductive the rest of the day. Instead, start off with something productive that you do every morning, you reinforce the idea that today is going to be a productive day.

  6. Incorporate. Companies pay expenses before taxes, People pay taxes before expenses. (Singapore is pretty great if you have this choice).

  7. Stay in the Game. Berkshire Hathaway originally had a third partner, Rick Guerin. He got caught out with margin loans and had to sell out. Warren and Charlie survived 14 recessions. https://www.swyx.io/psychology-of-money/

  8. Don’t Skimp On Your Equipment. Spending a few hundred dollars on your keyboard and monitor setup will save tens of thousands of physiotherapy and pain in future.

  9. Earn White Collar, Spend Blue Collar. Don’t let your expenses rise as fast as your income - you probably don’t need what you’re thinking of buying. Spend part of your white collar income making up for white collar downsides - gym, group classes, personal trainer.

  10. Always Turn Lessons To Principles. When we make mistakes or have great success, we should form them into principles so we can write them down and learn from or repeat them. It is the only way for past versions of you to communicate lessons to future you.

The full thread and discussions are here:

If you’re keen on my career-focused principles, I run a book community for the Coding Career Handbook. Join us!

Tagged in: #reflections #advice

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