Personal Growth & Reflecting on 17

Earlier this month I hit the big 18. That’s right — I can legally go to jail for murder, but for some reason, the law still won’t trust me to touch a cup of vodka (makes sense 🤔). Turning 18 is weird, despite being called an adult by the law I still feel like I’m 12.

I don’t usually celebrate my birthday. To me, it’s just another day. A day that for some reason I get my phone blown up and receive more heartfelt messages than any other day of the year.

After celebrating turning 18 by getting minimum sleep and spending a lot of time with friends, I decided I’d take some time to reflect on my last 365 days, and plan how I’m going to take over the world in the next 365.

I think 17 was the most challenging but rewarding year of my life. I accomplished more this year than I did in the last 16 years combined. Not just externally but internally. I had a lot of firsts including first time on a plane (that I can remember), first time starting a legitimate business, first time speaking at a conference, first time getting a short term coffee addiction, and first time realizing how much I really suck (and realizing how far I have to go in life).

I thought this would be a good way to recap my year for friends, family, and all the people who ask me what I’m up to nowadays. To show them I’m making progress and also the lessons I’m learning.

Instead of just putting a long list of different items, I decided to reflect and put lessons for the biggest areas of my life. I’m really grateful for all the friends and mentors who helped me along the way.

For anyone who thinks the article is too long, here’s a TL;DR of all the big lessons 😉.

Lessons I learned this year (Article TL;DR):

  • The world doesn’t owe you shit.
  • Stop engaging in things that don’t give you value. You’re not obligated to finish anything.
  • The environment you put yourself in is the most important thing in life. Create yours so it positively affects you.
  • Money is a tool, not a goal or destination.
  • Love is NOT unconditional. (The only 2 people who will love you unconditionally are your parents…hopefully.)
  • Hold yourself to a really high standard. There are zero excuses for being a shitty person.
  • Be productive and not busy. → Busy != Productive.
  • Be internally driven, external motivation is bullshit and isn’t sustainable.
  • Stop caring about what others think. 90% of times others aren’t always right. Don’t “be yourself.” Instead, figure out who you want to be and let that become your North Star.
  • Roll up your sleeves and be prepared to get dirty. Put in the hours of work that other people aren’t willing to do. Everybody wants glory but nobody wants to be punched in the guts.
  • Introspection and thinking are really important tools. Improving through self-understanding is better than improving through force.
  • Most people are transactional and very superficial. A lot of people are obsessed with bullshit (stay away from these people).
  • Be less judgemental towards people, really focus on understanding where people come from and what their incentives would be. Everyone’s been through tough situations.
  • It’s way better to be positive than negative. Life is short, so why not focus on positivity?
  • Take everyone’s advice with a grain of salt, including mine.

Each lesson may be really short, but inside each sentence lies a ton of emotion and learnings.

This year was full of accomplishments and growth:

To kick off here’s my stats sheet 😤

  • Over 100% improvement from last year (not sure how accurate this one is might just be 1000% ) 😉
  • 10+ conferences attended (3 biggest ones being CES, MWC, and Elevate) 🎯
  • 5 conferences spoken at 🎤
  • 6 hackathons attended (also 6 sleepless nights of hacking) ⚙️
  • Over 75+ meetings and calls with awesome people 📞
  • 8 cities travelled (San Francisco, Vancouver, NYC, Seattle, Berlin, Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Barcelona) 🛣
  • Over 20+ flights ✈️
  • 1 major company joined 📈
  • 1 successful side business started
  • 10+ books read 📖

Throughout the year I also learned A TON of major lessons that really changed my perspective on life and who I am.

Goals for myself in the next 365 days?

The simple answer is I don’t know. I used to plan yearly goals and tried to hit them, but then I realized yearly goals don’t work anymore. At this point in time, my life moves faster than I can aim for.

If I tried to guess where I’d be 6 months ago let alone 12 I would have failed dramatically. Instead of setting hard goals I want to reach in one year, I set broad areas I want to hit. This way if a spontaneous opportunity comes up I’m flexible enough to go for it.

At a high level this year I have a few goals:

  • Learn to be a world-class CEO and gain the skills needed to run a company: Understand what it takes to grow and scale a company, learn about hiring people/attracting talent, and gain really powerful decision-making abilities. Setting the foundations for starting my own company.
  • Build strong relationships with the people I care about: Find like-minded people who are fun to hang around, but are also super ambitious (someone who’d be a great Co-Founder). Spend more quality time with family and siblings, who I’m starting to see less as I get too busy.
  • Learn to be analytical and data-driven: Become someone who’s really great at identifying problems and opportunities. Quickly learn to solve problems by being able to spot things other people can’t even see.
  • Learn more about the world: Travel more and get to experience different cultures that open up my mind. Learn about technology and what fields are progressing really fast.
  • Focus on health: find time to engage in physical activity and eat healthily. I’ve started to learn how big a role health plays in every other aspect of life. If you’re not healthy it really messes up your productivity and your ability to do anything.

My Life Last Year vs Today

My Life Last Year?

A year ago today I was halfway through grade 11, really focused on learning as much as I could about this magical tech called blockchain. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life (besides becoming rich), debating where I wanted to go for post-secondary and what my plan for the future would be. I started having a lot of doubts about University, and if there would be value in it for me. I started seeing ways to reach the end goal of having a degree, without actually doing it. Other people called it trying to find shortcuts but I just saw it as a more optimal path. My biggest goal was making money, and the metric for success was how much money could I make.

My friend groups were a mix of different types of people. On one end of the spectrum, it was people who were all fun and had no goals in life. On the other end, it was the complete opposite, really smart and motivated people who had killer ambitions to make an impact on the world.

Mentally I didn’t have a fraction of the knowledge I have now (although I still thought I knew way more then I did). I would base a lot of my opinions on personal experience instead of facts. I didn’t have a high amount of self-awareness or understanding of why I would feel certain things.

My Life This Year!

This year my life is almost the complete opposite. I’m no longer in high school, I decided to do my last semester of school online while I work full time.

9 months ago I joined a small events startup as the 2nd employee when we were only based in Toronto. Since then I’ve helped scale the company to 20+ people, and 10+ cities around the world.

The company is called The Tech Society (we’re hiring 😉) and we do 150+ C-Suite/Executive only emerging tech conferences in 6 different branches.

Scaling the company has taught me a ton of valuable lessons and the hard knocks of entrepreneurship. The job has also allowed me to experience travelling the world and managing a team of people (some who are almost double my age).

Being a manager at a company is a lot different from working a job (take this with a grain of salt, my only other job has been as a Footlocker associate 😉), due to the realness of not having room to mess up for stupid reasons. Wasting time, underdelivering, and procrastination may be a problem when you’re working on something for yourself. However, when other people are depending on you to get shit done and people get a paycheck from your work, there’s an internal urgency of doing things right.

When I was younger I used to tell my brother I would never work a 9–5 job in my life because being a “slave to the system” sucked. Turns out I was right, I now work a 9–7 and sometimes 9–9 job. Why work for 40 hours a week when you can work 80 😤?

Making money is still a big goal but it’s also offset by the desire to learn and gain cool experiences. My friend group is almost 90% different. I’ve started to realize that a lot of people I thought I liked were only in my life due to being in my environment. I had to take a step and ask myself the question “Would I be friends with these people or care about them if I didn’t go to school with them?” And the answer often turned out to be a no.

This turned out to be an even more of an accurate test for extended family. Growing up I felt like the status quo opinion has been you have to respect and love everyone you’re related to regardless of the situation. I used to feel really guilty when I started working a lot and would skip on family events, but now I don’t. I strongly believe no one is entitled to your love or time, even if they do have the title of “family”.

I get a lot of hate for this opinion when talking to others, but looking at it objectively most of the people I’m related to are losers and a lot of social interactions I witnessed growing up have been toxic from gossiping to petty fights. So the question becomes “ Are these people genuinely awesome people, and would I spend time with or value them if I didn’t feel obligated?”

Mentally I’ve improved a lot, I’ve realized I’m not that knowledgeable. There’s an infinite amount of knowledge I’ll never know, and it’s better to say “I don’t know” then pretend like I have all the answers. I’ve become less immature, I still act like I’m a kid sometimes but the goal is to bring that amount down.

I spend a lot of time thinking and introspecting. I used to get really mad at myself for doing certain things, or not being productive. I thought forcing myself and developing “discipline” was the way to improve myself. However, I quickly realized the best way to improve is through self-understanding.

Say I wanted to finish my to-do list which was about 6 hours of work. But throughout the day I only managed to do 3 hours and started messing around. Before I would get mad and try to force myself to do it next time through discipline or will power. Now I just ask myself a lot of questions and think about why I didn’t get my work done. By asking myself questions to get to the root of the problem and finding what triggers make me act a certain way, I’m able to develop self-understanding to do better next time.

There’s a lot of areas of my life I’ve learned a lot about so I’ll go through the major ones:

Books

I’ve always loved reading and after started to read a book, I would force myself to finish it. Looking back this was kind of stupid, if a book wasn’t giving me value why would I keep reading it? I’ve learned that books should be consumed in moderation, and as you read the focus should be to implement thoughts to action.

I used to be a huge fan of reading books to learn, but now I realize formats like articles and podcasts are just as effective. The only time a book is really necessary is to continue reinforcing a lesson through different stories.

Books are a great way to supplement what you learn in real life and internalize experiences you haven’t had yourself.

I think Naval Ravikant puts this lesson best:

“I don’t actually read a lot of books. I pick up a lot of books and only get through a few, which form the foundation of my knowledge.”

For 2019 I have a few books on my reading list:

  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz
  • Zero to One by Peter Thiel
  • Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari

Money

Money is a tool, not a goal or destination.

Drake has a quote I heard about 2 years ago:

“At 17, I wanted everything that was in store. At 23, I bought it all just to make sure.”

I used to think this quote was really cool and was what I would do when I got rich. But for me, it’s more like

“At 16 wanted everything that was in store. At 18, I realized I didn’t even want to buy stuff anymore.”

From learning to day trade Crypto to joining a company early, this year I suddenly had more money then I knew what to do with. However, instead of splurging and spending, I realized I didn’t really want to buy anything. (I wouldn’t say I didn’t spend a lot of money, but most of my money started going to experiences over material items.)

When I had no money I wanted to buy everything. Fancy clothes, shoes, expensive electronics, and crazy trips. I thought making a ton of money would make my life better in every way possible.

But now that I have money, I don’t really want anything that I don’t already have in my life. I realized most of the money I spent in the last few months was on two main things:

  1. For making my life better.
  2. For making other people’s lives better.

If it comes to buying clothes or a big-ticket item, I’ll probably decide I don’t really want it that much. However, if it’s something like food or something that makes my life better, I’ll buy it without a second thought.

A few days ago I was deciding if I wanted to buy a new Macbook since my current one was getting old, and instantly I thought no. The same day, I read an article that said using a sleep mask made someone’s life exponentially better. Without a second thought, I went on Amazon and ordered the most popular one.

A lot of people might say the only reason I bought a sleep mask quickly and not a laptop, is because of the dramatic difference in price. But if my MacBook was being unbearably slow and pissed me off to no ends. I’d go to the Apple store the next day to buy a new one.

I remember I used to be really cheap on things like getting an Uber or taking the GO Train. I’d rather waste 2 hours taking the bus then take the more efficient route and save time. Now it’s a no brainer on taking Ubers.

Productivity and Motivation

How to get stuff done without sacrificing your life.

From an early age, I was really focused on productivity and being efficient. I used to think everybody did this but realized it’s actually really rare to find somebody who’s consistently productive and intentional with how they set up their life.

I’ve tried a ton of different things to see what would work for me over the years. I’ve done tasks lists, To Do List software like Wunderlist, sticky notes, having everything in my calendar, and much more. A lot of it failed but this year I found a system that fits well and helps me accomplish a lot each month:

My system for being productive:

  • Keeping all major meetings, appointments, and important dates in a Calendar. I use Google Calendar.
  • Setting monthly and weekly goals, with key items I want to accomplish each week and OKRs.
  • Having one large note file with daily tasks breakdown for every day of the week. Below the day by day tasks, having each week of the month and a breakdown of major items to accomplish during that week. Finally having a separate note file that has a major month by month goals.
  • Spending Sunday’s planning my week for what I want to do get done each day. Also, spending the first Sunday of every month setting what I want to accomplish during the month.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading books and articles about productivity, as well as trying a ton of different systems. I’ve had 3 major takeaways:

1. What works for you will NOT work for everyone else, so no point in trying to copy full systems from other people.

2. The only way to find out what works for YOU to become productive is through experimentation and iteration.

3. What works to make you productive will change over time in your life. You’ll go through different systems and methods, you just need to be adaptable.

There are also a few things I’ve learned about myself around keeping motivated which I’m still trying to figure out.

I’ve learned I’m a really internally motivated person for a lot of reasons. I don’t need external people or have the need to watch motivational videos to get myself going. I can just do stuff. When other people ask me how or why it’s hard to explain.

I’ve never had room to mess up since I’ve always had people dependent on me, or I had to be responsible for myself in a lot of ways. I think the reason most people aren’t internally motivated is because of the lack of urgency or fire under their ass. I learned pretty early in life that the world didn’t owe me anything. If I wanted something I had to work for it since no one would hand it to me.

I don’t need to really think about or force myself to do something. If it’s a task I have to finish or something that I have time for I’ll manage to do it. I don’t suffer from procrastination (or at least that much anymore).

I’ve also learnt there’s no such thing as I don’t have time, it just means I’m not prioritizing it.

Busy != productive

One of the final big lessons I’ve learned around productivity is actually being productive and not busy.

A lot of people will put a ton of things to get done on their To Do list that don’t actually matter, so instead they become busy.

This happens to me sometimes, I end up doing a lot of “work” but then look back on the week and can’t see what I actually did. I’ve learned a way to stay productive and make progress is to set monthly goals.

Once the month is over, I look back to see if I got the main things I set out to do done. If I didn’t and there wasn’t a reasonable explanation or emergency, it means I was busy and not productive.

If there’s one lesson I could give to someone who doesn’t plan their time out or set goals.

If you think about life it’s incredibly short, time flies by really fast and before you know it, you’re old.

I’m always really shocked that some people don’t have a calendar or write out what they want to accomplish.

This is scary because it means if a person doesn’t plan, their living life without having intent. A lot of people have really ambitious dreams or at least goals they want to accomplish. But when you look at their day to day, since they don’t plan on what they want to do during the day. The day ends up being useless for what they want long term.

Since each day ends up being useless and doesn’t make progress for a goal they want to achieve. The days end up becoming weeks where nothing happens. These weeks end up becoming months, which turn into years. Before they know it, someone can go through life and never accomplish what they really wanted.

So the lesson: Set goals and have intent with how you spend your days.

High school

Most people in high school are lost and everyone likes to pretend.

Over the last 2 years, I’ve gotten to experience what it’s like being a normal kid in high school but also have the chance to do things aren’t so being a normal high school kid.

Being out of school now but every so often going back to see what old friends are up to is a really interesting experience. Funny to see how even just a year ago I was in this bubble and involved in many of these things.

Looking back on high school and observing what I see people do now, I’ve learned a few lessons:

  • People in high school talk and sound like idiots, I still cringe looking back on some of the slang I would use.
  • Most people in high school really prioritize and sometimes even glorify drinking and partying. But if you look at it objectively, it really sucks and isn’t that fun. People often put on a show on social media of having a really crazy time, but if you’re actually there you know how boring it really is.
  • A really interesting concept is fake friends, people will have fake friends in high school. They’ll pretend to like someone, and then 5 minutes later will talk about them behind their back. This actually makes up a really high percentage of high school friendships.
  • Most people in high school are superficial and everyone puts on a mask. Everyone likes to pretend they’re happy and put on a facade on social media. This results in everyone having FOMO and thinking other people’s lives are way cooler they really are.

If I could give anyone in high school three lessons here’s what they would be:

  • It’s a scam but try to maximize your experience out of it. Talk to the weird kids and the outcasts, find out who you really are and try to find like-minded people. If you’re lucky it might turn out you’re pretty weird and an outcast yourself.
  • Figure out what you want, and not just what you think you want. Don’t succumb to peer pressure and think what others want is what you want. Most kids are just pretending too.
  • Treat high school as you would a day job, go have fun and get your work done. But try to find hobbies and passions you enjoy outside of just school work.

Friends, Family, & Unconditional Love

No one in the world will ever love you unconditionally (except maybe your parents).

I’ve learned that having really great friends who make you a better person is something everyone should focus on finding.

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

If you have a shitty group of friends either two things will happen. You’ll gradually become more like them, or somehow you’ll manage to motivate all of them into becoming more like you. The first is more likely. If you can change one thing in your life, change the people you call friends and your life will change dramatically.

Family is also really important, in some ways more important than having friends. Friendships are really amazing and some will change you as a person, however, they are not unconditional.

People love to talk about love being unconditional, but I’ve realized unconditional love is really rare and only possible in a few scenarios.

I could do something really messed up and my friends might never talk to me again. But no matter what I do my parents love for me will never die.

The only people I can really imagine ever loving with no strings attached are my future son or daughter. A bond between a parent and their kid is a really special connection and hard to mirror.

Even after learning this lesson, I’m still not the best at spending time with my family. So as I get older it’s something I’m really focusing on getting better at.

With all that being said, I was fortunate enough to have two parents who love me to no ends. It’s a sad truth, but a lot of people don’t have really functional families. If I was in that situation my first priority would be my exit plan to living by myself.

Self Improvement & Introspection

Introspection is better than force, it’s also one of the keys to self-awareness.

I’ve started to realize as I get older, I need to hold myself at a higher standard. I still feel like I’m 12, and often act like I’m 12. Personally, I feel like I’m a pretty positive person but when I really reflected on it I’ve started to realize I’m pretty negative. So I started focusing on being less negative and being better to people since there is no excuse for being a shitty person

I used to be really negative, get angry for no reason, felt a lot of hatred and resentment towards a lot of people, and then not understand why I felt a certain way. I always felt like there was just so much going through my head and I couldn’t explain it.

I still do some of these things but I’ve realized introspection and just thinking turned out to be a huge problem solver. I now spend a minimum of 30 minutes a day just reflecting and thinking. I love it. It gives me a sense of clarity and I’ve started to understand why I’m a certain way.

If certain things make me a shitty person, I can now recognize why it makes me a shitty person and takes actions to become a little better each day.

I’ve also learned not to fall victim to my environment. There were a lot of parts of me I would just accept as being who I am since I grew up a certain way. One lesson I learned and a huge reminder I need to tell myself when I think a certain way is:

I have the complete freedom and independence to decide who I want to be.

Adult Life

Turning 18 really hits you in multiple ways. At first, it seems really cool that you can now do a lot of things you couldn’t before. But then you realize that since you’re 18 you can’t mess around anymore. I’m legally an adult and can go to jail.

If I was to punch someone randomly in the face for no reason I might be able to get away with it for being a minor. Now if I do it chances are I’ll go to jail for assault.

This really reaffirms the lesson of holding myself to a high standard.

The advice I would give to My Younger Self

  • Don’t just “be yourself” that’s stupid. Figure out who you want to be and maximize your ability to get there.
  • Don’t be afraid to show who you really are. Focus on your personal growth and goals, the right people will come to you and you’ll find them along the way.
  • Be polarizing and be your own person. Develop personal interests and hobbies, don’t be a “nothing person.” Nobody remembers the person who was in the middle of the spectrum.
  • The parents, siblings, aunts/uncles, teachers who used to stuff advice in your face and tell you how to live life. Yeah, you were right and they were wrong. Although they can’t see it yet and still think you’re a failure, just keep grinding in silence. When you finally make it, still be nice to them because that’s the great person you are. Sometimes it’s best to follow your own path, just do so by making smart choices.
  • Take everyone’s advice with a grain of salt…No matter who they are.
  • Take photos and document your journey, you’re going to regret each time you do interesting things and not have a way to recount it! TAKE MORE PHOTOS!

The last 17 years of my life have been one hell of a ride and I think I’m finally starting to gain momentum. I’m really looking forward to accomplishing more at 18 then I have any other year, along with crushing adulthood.

If there’s one lesson that I’ve been learning over the last few weeks, it’s that the people who change the world are the ones who are stupid enough to think they can.

So for the rest of my adult life, I hope to stay naive and stupid enough to believe I’m going to do something big. (who knows I might just do it).