I’m 29

Every year, on my birthday, I write an update on what happened in my life in the preceding twelve months. I’ve done this since my eighteenth birthday, so if you’re interested you can see how my life and views have changed over the last decade.

Of course, if you’re not interested, I’ll be back to my normal articles which are less self-indulgent next week.

In this post, I’ll go over what has happened in my life this last year, plans for the future and how my views on life have changed.

My Life Last Year

In terms of public projects, this last year was relatively quiet. No new languages learned. No racing through MIT exams.

My only public project was a small one: trying to level-up my Korean on five hours per week. I’m now in the middle of the final month of this project. I’ll save a full write-up for later, but it has been a mixed success. I’ve definitely improved my Korean language abilities, but it hasn’t reached the level of spontaneous engagement I have in Chinese or Spanish.

Professionally, most of the year was spent mixed between unsexy business development and preparation for writing a new book. The book, if all goes well, will be my full-time project next year.

From a public-blogging standpoint, there hasn’t been too much to say.

Personally, however, this year has been a pretty important one. I got engaged to my girlfriend of three years (and close friend of eleven years), Zoey. We now live together in Vancouver. Previously, I had been going to stay with her in Winnipeg, for a few months at a time, before she was able to move here.

I don’t write about my intimate relationships much on this blog. Part of that is the desire to maintain some separation between my public and private persona. Contrary to the share-everything-authenticity crowd, I do think those are two different things and trying to merge them completely is itself a weird kind of inauthenticity.

It suffices to say that getting engaged to my best friend has been one of the happiest moments of my life.

My Plans for Next Year

My next year, if all goes well, will be devoted full-time to writing a book. I hesitate to share too much on that point, if only because writing a book through a traditional publisher is such a long process, that it often disappoints audiences when the book itself won’t be available for a couple years.

That said, writing a traditionally-published book is new territory for me. In the past, I’ve self-published everything. This affords a lot of flexibility and control, but it also allow for a certain amount of complacency. I’m hoping that by pushing myself I can get to a new standard in my writing and understanding of the topics I talk about.

With a book project taking on most of my time next year, I won’t be taking on any other large professional projects. I’ve found taking on multiple goals simultaneously is the easiest way to not make much progress on any of them. Focus, however difficult, is powerful.

Long-Term Plans for the Future

Although I only have one project planned to try to accomplish for next year, I do have large visions of what I’d like to accomplish in the bigger picture. Some of these plans are still in the idea phase, and will need to wait until my current projects wrap up before I can work on them. Others require longer incubation, so I might have someone on my team work on them as I work on my writing.

Here are a few of those ideas:

1. Setting up a Chinese-language presence.

One of the more interesting developments in this blog’s history has been the explosion of interest in my books, particularly Learn More, Study Less, in China. This, combined with my interest in learning Chinese, has made me more interested in the possibility of trying to establish more business in China.

This is a lot easier said than done. China is very restrictive on the internet, so getting set up is a lot trickier than simply hiring a translator. However, I’m hopeful that if the obstacles can be overcome, I might be able to write more directly to the people who enjoy my work in China.

2. Working on next-generation courses.

I’m proud of the work my team and I have been able to do in Rapid Learner and Top Performer. I think they teach important skills and many people have used them to get impressive results in their career, academics and personal life.

However, I’m fascinated with the future possibilities of the intersection between technology, education and self-improvement, and I don’t at all think we’re at the limit of that frontier. In particular, I think there’s room for improvement in terms of:

  • Evidence-based practice. Right now I lack the abilities and budget to do the kind of evidence-based assessments that would meet the criteria of scientific authority. However, inching closer to more direct experimentation on what works, in what situations and for whom, would be a big leap over the status-quo.
  • Entertainment and follow-through. The biggest challenge facing self-improvement is that it’s hard to do. I don’t suspect I can fix this problem on my own, but I think technology might be able to make courses work on multiple levels, so that serious students can get the real advice they need, but those more interested in passive consumption aren’t left behind.
  • Customization. Unlike books, technology has the possibility to deliver a more tailored message and advice, depending on the student. One of the biggest weaknesses I’ve seen with current offerings is that students who lack ability often also lack the introspective sense of which advice actually applies to them. An ideal system would be able to deliver the exact advice a student needs to solve their current problem, something only currently viable with one-on-one coaching.

Many of these are still outside of the current skills and scale of my business. But I hope if we can continue to increase revenue and hire more smart people, that we’ll be able to start solving some of these issues.

3. Long-Term Learning Goals

I have a number of things that I’m currently learning. Although, aside from Korean at the moment, none of them reaches the threshold of a formal project, I still have my sights on improvement in the long-term.

Here’s a few of the things I’m striving to get better at:

  • Chinese. Although in many of my past pursuits, I’ve lost interest once I’ve reached an adequate level, Chinese continues to fascinate me well past a thousand hours of practice. Some things I’d like to be able to do that I find difficult or impossible currently: read a book without any dictionary help, write articles similar to those I write in English and give speeches in Mandarin.
  • Cognitive Science. Given my upcoming book will be about learning, I’m using this as an excuse to dig deeper into much of the research that straddles the cognitive science learning project I’ve been working on.
  • Buddhism and non-Western philosophy. I hope to do a 10-day meditation retreat in the upcoming year. I’m currently reading the Majjhima Nikaya. There’s a lot of ideas in these veins that haven’t coalesced yet into a clear picture, but I think there’s a lot of fruitful concepts for rethinking some of the assumptions I have.
  • Art. In addition to my portrait drawing challenge, I’ve been working on painting, mostly in acrylic. I’m still very much at an amateur level, but with patience I’ll keep getting better. Given much of my regular work is highly on the analytical/verbal direction, I think working on artistic skills gives me a broader base of thinking.

Changes in Outlook

Since I’ve been writing this blog since I was seventeen, my views on life have grown as I have. I think this can sometimes be confusing, in part because writing is a static thing. Someone can read an article or ebook I wrote a decade ago today, and thus get the impression that they were both written by the same person, when in reality there’s a huge gulf between nineteen and twenty-nine year-old Scott.

Sometimes my opinions on things change dramatically, switching from one opinion to its opposite. When that happens, I do my best to document it, as I did with speed reading and other issues here.

However, most of the time the changes are more subtle, and harder to articulate in an essay.

The biggest change in my outlook is simply that many things which seemed crystal clear to me when I was younger, no longer do today. Ironically, this isn’t because I’ve learned less, but because I’ve learned more. When you’ve heard a few good arguments in a single direction, you can become convinced in them strongly. When you’ve heard many good arguments in many directions, including many that you never would have considered before, it becomes clear how difficult it is to know things, and how many possible explanations or ideas there are to fit the patterns of life and reality.

This softening of my views, also perhaps ironically, has also come with greater effectiveness. I’m better at accomplishing my goals in most domains than I used to be. Part of this is just the accumulation of practical knowledge. I understand business, relationships, health, life and habits more deeply now, so I make fewer mistakes. Part of it is the accumulation of past successes creates richer opportunities.

So, on the one hand, I’m less convinced in the rightness of my ideas, while also seeming to have more evidence for their rightness, personally. Life is weird that way.

I guess the biggest description I could offer for my change in beliefs is a bigger belief in plurality. The idea that there’s more than one right way to see things, more than one strategy that will be effective. This is challenging for a writer, because people like me to have strong opinions and advice that says “do X and not Y”, rather than the probably more true that, “X works for me, Y might also work, and there’s this complex list of trade-offs you’re not considering.”

Maybe all this is just the result of growing up.

Nonetheless, I’ll continue to do my best to share what I find with you. It may not be the only answer, or even maybe the right one, but I’m not sure we can ask for more from the people we want to learn from. Regardless of where I go, I hope you’ll continue the journey with me. Thanks again for being my reader.

  • Happy birthday, Scott!
    Thanks a lot for your comprehensive blog about learning!

  • Philip Chu

    Happy birthday Scott! I think many people, much older than you, don’t have your maturity and perspective on life.

  • Kangning A. Zhan

    Happy birthday, Scott, wish you a happy, healthy and meaningful next year! Reading your blog has became a joy of my life, millions of thanks for sharing with us your learning strategies and your views on life, it helped me improving myself a lot, couldn’t say enough thank you!

  • Jeff

    Reading your blog for the last few years has created this insatiable love of learning both as a lifestyle and as a topic. I used Rapid Learner to teach myself the data science skills I am now working as a Data Scientist in Education Technology field, looking to use data science to help the world learn better. Thank you Scott.

  • Alex Chu

    Happy birthday,Scott! I’m 17 years old and from China.I’m very glad that you find Chinese interesting and I will continue following your steps to learn foreign languages.It’s a great idea to post your ideas directly to Chinese people because 1.there are many people desperate to learn in China,and we love your ideas 2 The translation of your book “Learn More,Study Less” is,frankly,not good enough.
    Your work has benefit me a lot.Thank you.I wish I would be as smart,accoplished and hopeful when I’m 29.

  • clara tan

    Happy birthday Scott ! I am 18 years old and I am from Malaysia. You inspired me to become a better person and I will definitely follow your steps by starting a blog to record my study journey ! Once again , thank you !

  • Luiz Machado

    Hi Scott,
    I have been following your journey for the past 5 years. I have been part of all of your online learning courses.
    I have found a fascinating new article that will love. It is about a study of mathematically precious youth that began in the 1970’s. Now after all that time has passed they can see where the 5,000 precious participants have ended up. The article appeared in journal Nature (it not a academic paper though) https://my.vanderbilt.edu/smpy/files/2013/01/Article-NATURE-2016.pdf

  • Lucas Borja Peinado

    Feliz cumpleaños!

  • Della

    Happy Birthday Scott!

  • Eric Kaisen

    Happy Birthday Scott!

    With regards to your interest in Buddhism and Non-Western concepts, you might be interested in the newly released “Why Buddhism is True” by Robert Wright. Or “What the Buddha Taught” by Walpola Rahula. Both highly recommended as they’ll provide you with deeper insight into understanding the concepts discussed in the Majjhima Nikaya suttas.

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