Today is my thirty-first birthday. Every year on this blog, since I was 18, I’ve written a birthday post, sharing some of what I’ve done in the past year, as well as my plans for the future.
In some ways, this tradition itself feels strange. When you’re in your early twenties, each year feels like a huge milestone. Now, without grades or graduations to separate chunks of time, years start to blur together.
However, perhaps the fact that years blur together is all the more reason to pay attention to them. Mark out time, so that it doesn’t slip away from you. Don’t let decades pass without having done the things you wanted to do.
What I Did Last Year
The biggest event of the last year happened just a few weeks ago–the publication of Ultralearning.
Writing this book has been, without a doubt, the hardest project I’ve undertaken. Not because of something intrinsic to writing a book, but because I felt enormous pressure, and that often made it challenging to make progress.
For starters, the topic of this book has been basically my entire adult life. While there will be other ideas for books, I wouldn’t get another chance to write this, so I knew I wanted to make it count.
Second, I knew I wanted to write something I hadn’t done before. I wanted the book to explore other stories, not just my own–which meant I had to get good at finding those stories. I knew I wanted the book to talk about science intelligently, which meant trying to pore over thousands of pages of research, just hoping that I’m not going to misinterpret the work of specialists.
The book has since become a National and Wall Street Journal best-seller. Sales are great, but even more rewarding have been the comments from readers. As of this writing, we have 18/20 5-star reviews on Amazon, and 4.33 on Goodreads (out of 87 ratings).
In the end, I’m proud of the book I was able to write. But I’m more proud that I didn’t let the stress and fears it created win.
Italy + Macedonia
I also went on a honeymoon with my wife, Zorica, to Italy in October last year. We started in Positano, on the Amalfi Coast, and went north, through Rome, Tuscany and finally Venice.
We even decided to do a (mini) ultralearning project: sketching. My goal was to do one sketch a day on the trip. I’ve done sketching trips before (previously, a couple years ago in Beijing), and it can be a lot of fun, even if you’re not an artist.
I like the way drawing forces you to really look at things, in a way that snapping a photograph may not. Plus, it was a fun activity to do with Zorica, drawing our way across Italy.
After Italy, we spent two weeks in Zorica’s home country of Macedonia. She moved to Canada when she was fourteen, and it was her first time going back home in sixteen years.
I didn’t go No-English this time (her cousins speak English quite well, and my goal in the first visit was to make a good impression with my in-laws, not rapid fluency) but I did manage to learn a little Macedonian, which will hopefully improve over future trips.
Plans for Next Year
I already have a few projects underway for the coming year.
I want to improve the quality of the articles I write on the blog. Writing this book was great for learning how to produce more engaging, well-researched work. But, it was also a reminder that my blog posts rarely reach that level of polish. I’d like to try to change that in the coming year.
I’m working on a new course with Cal Newport. We’ve been in talks for over a year now to try to deliver a course which will break down the approach to life we’ve been separately advocating on our blogs, of deep work and learning, and turning it into a set of concrete habits one could be guided through in a course. It’s still in development, but I hope to have more news sometime in 2020.
New ultralearning projects? An obvious question, after having finished writing the book, is what ultralearning projects I want to tackle next. I still haven’t made up my mind, but right now I’m inclined towards applying it to the skills within my career rather than learn completely new and unrelated ones. Regardless of what I choose, I’m always actively learning new things, even if I don’t always make a big public project out of them.
Finally, thanks to everyone who has been following my writing over the years. Because of you, I’m able to do what I love for a living, and I don’t take that for granted. I look forward to sharing the journey with you.