Oh, boy! This is the first annual report I’ve written. It’s not for a company though. It’s an annual report on Brian, and right now, I’m the greatest financial asset I've got. So, without any further delay, here goes nothin’.
Why Am I Writing A Report?
I was originally inspired to do this by my good buddy, Warren Buffett. Not really, we’ve never met, but I’m sure he'd like the idea. Seriously though, Warren writes beautiful annual letters to his shareholders. He explains things clearly, with humor, and spells out his performance and thinking behind his investing decisions over the previous 365 days. Bill Gates also took this idea from Buffett because he too does something similar on his site, Gates Notes. Anyways, if Gates and Buffett write reports, I guess it’s cool.
So much changed in 2015! My job, house, family, health, pretty much any core component of daily life you can think of, changed for me at some point. The tough part about change is that we have this nagging opposition to it. The resistance really just comes from survival instincts and our desire to maintain total control of our surroundings, but that doesn't mean unrooting yourself is easy. I was put to the test.
Have you ever had THAT teacher, professor, or coach, push you beyond what you thought you were capable of achieving? In the moment, you might have thought they were punishing you, expecting too much, etc. only to remember years later that they were one of the few people who actually challenged you and made an impact on your life. That’s the general feeling I have for 2015.
It was a challenging year, no doubt about it. At midnight, when the clock struck and it was officially 2016, I breathed a sigh of relief. Onwards to a clean slate. In the remaining letter, you’ll find my thoughts on my mind, body, and spirit, along with some of the biggest ideas I’ve wrestled with this year. I hope to make this the start of a tradition, so if you like something, please let me know so I can make it better next year. Finally, my deepest desire is that you'll find something thought provoking or useful in the following words.
If you don’t have health, nothing else really matters. The weather, who’s on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, who you’re dating. You can’t take anything with you when you die, so you better get your priorities in order. Sorry to be blunt or morbid, but I started 2015 with the loss of my grandmother and it put this memento mori in the back of my mind, inspiring me to be more mindful of my body.
I played soccer in college for four years. When I graduated, I was probably in the best physical shape of my life. But slowly and surely after a few years of work and an injury from playing in a rec league, I let my fitness slide way off this peak. I let stress and emotions trump rationality. Fortunately, I met a friend who reinvigorated my appreciation for fitness.
Since then, I joined Strava, a running app/network, and have been running regularly all year. I’m not quite back at the soccer shape level, but I do feel great again. I logged 348 miles last year. Now I’m going for 10 miles per week. You can follow my athlete profile here. In short, 2015 was a turning point for me and my health. As I noted earlier, I've come to appreciate that I'm the best asset I have and I need to maintain and nourish myself to lead the productive life I desire.
I finished 31 books this year. That number doesn’t include the others that I started and set aside, or skimmed. You can view everything I read, here. By far, the most influential book of the year goes to David Brooks. I’ve written about David before, but his book, The Road To Character really hit home. Brooks writes:
The moral world is not structured like the market world. It has an inverse logic. To develop morally and inside you have to follow an inverse set of rules. You have to give to receive. You have to surrender to something outside yourself to gain strength within yourself. You have to conquer your desire to get what you crave. Success leads to the greatest failure, which is arrogance and pride. Failure can lead to the greatest success, which is humility and learning. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.
I also supplement my reading with a few good podcasts. You can find all my favorite podcasts on my learning page. The takeaway from 2015, is that knowledge isn't linear. It compounds like interest. As you continue to build a foundation of wisdom and mental models, eventually you’ll notice a snowball effect. Every day I try to go to bed smarter than I wake up.
So far, I’ve written about my mind and body but haven't told you about my emotional health. There was a study conducted by Harvard University that followed 300 young men from the age of 19, until old age. What they found is that the biggest predictor of happiness and health wasn’t connected to economic privilege, rather the quality of relationships. Those participants with highest quality relationships throughout their life, tended to fare much better as they aged.
Inspired by David Brooks, Warren Buffett, and studies like the one above, 2015 taught me the importance of developing my internal scorecard. I’m not talking about reassuring measurements of success like money, job titles, etc. I’m talking about the intangible metrics like friendships, mentors, life partners, and so on.
To improve my inner scorecard, I’ve started to tune into the inner narrative in my mind. It tells me things like who I should hang out with, what I should do in certain social settings, how I’m feeling, etc. Most of the time, that inner dialogue is between my emotional self, and my more rational thinking self. Strangely, I find it incredibly difficult to default to the thinking mind.
“Wisdom is the ability to listen to your own advice.”
We all have stories we tell ourselves. We all have unlived lives within us. In 2015, I began the journey of carving out my own narrative, and actually committing to it. One of the biggest epidemics plaguing the millennial generation at the moment is the paralysis of choice. We’re living in a time with more life options than ever before. Who you date, where you work, what pizza place do you order from? Everything has ten other potentially pleasing options, and instead of making a decision, we sit there sucking our thumbs until we think we've pick the very best one.
Well, one of my goals for 2016 is to get better at listening to my own advice. I want to make more commitments this year, I want to make more decisions, and I want to be able to validate them intrinsically, rather than craving external reassurance.
I’m incredibly bullish on 2016. Some of that might be my naive optimism talking. But another part of me really wants to believe in the possibility of change. You really can do incredible things if you break them down into little steps. If you tell yourself the right story, and aren’t afraid of failure, you can make more of a difference in the world than you might think. I want to end this year’s letter with another borrowed line from Brooks: “It’s the things you chain yourself to that set you free.”
What’s something you really want to do this year? Think about it. Now, commit. Give yourself permission, you don’t need validation from anyone else. That said, for whatever it’s worth, I believe in you. Happy New Year.