The 5 Most Important Things I Learned in 2021

1 January, 2022
Life; Productivity; Decision-making; Self-improvement

The 5 most important things I learned in 2021 were:

  1. ‘The most important skill’ 2.0
  2. Match your career to your nature
  3. Systems > self-discipline
  4. Why and how to be more vulnerable
  5. Just do something

1/ The most important skill 2.0

Two years ago I wrote about the “most important skill”. 

This article shares version 2.0...

At the end of each year I score different aspects of my life from work to relationships to health.

I ranked myself lower than last year in every category despite improving in every category. This is because I realised how much more I can improve. 

This learning has a potent meta-implication:

The most important skill is realising that you can improve in every domain. Seriously, every.

There is not a single thing that you cannot get better at, even things you would not expect…

You can improve at happiness.

You can improve at empathy.

You can improve at vulnerability

I think about every aspect of life as something to improve. Genius is built, not born.

But, it’s one thing to hear that you can improve in everything, it’s another to internalise it and live it. 

To every investor (private markets or public), I highly recommend this podcast about investing as a skill to be disaggregated and trained. This video shows it in practice.

To every person who listens to podcasts, I recommend considering your listening speed as something you can systematically improve. This excellent article spurred me to increase my listening speed from 2x to 4x in a month.

2/ Match your career to your nature

Earlier this year I wrote “my career manifesto – a guide to career design”.

The central premise is to “match your career to your nature” because then you’ll be good at it and be energised for the long haul. 

My earlier article stepped through 4 heuristics to decide what to work on – here are 3 more. 

Frame 1: “Find what feels like play to you but looks like work to others” (Naval)

This isn’t as simple as “follow your passions”. 

The difference is the qualifier “what looks like work to others” because that implies that your ‘play’ is something that society values and rewards.

Frame 2: “Operate in your Zone of Genius” (Sahil Bloom)

Your Zone of Genius is where your interests and skills align. It’s somewhere that you are uniquely well-suited to win.

Frame 3: “The most important decision is game selection” (Yen Liow)

Game selection is choosing where to focus your energy. There is no point going pedal to the metal if you are pointing in the wrong direction.

Choosing which game to play requires having a deep understanding of yourself, and matching that with an area where you can reach excellence. A useful directing question is Naval’s from above, which deserves repeating:

“What feels like play to you but looks like work to others?”

3/ Systems > Self-Discipline

Earlier this year I wrote this in a Next Chapter Newsletter:

It’s 1:39am, November 11, 2021.

Reading 6 months of journal entries, I recognise a common theme…

I have often been distracted by my phone, food and social media.

For far too long I’ve tried to fix this problem through accountability with friends and self-discipline.

But my realisation is that accountability and discipline only go so far. Trying to force myself to change my behaviour is really f**ing difficult.

So what’s the solution?


Systems are more powerful than discipline in shaping behaviours and actions.

While accountability incentivises you to change, systems force you to change - they give you no choice.

A system I now use is Freedom to block social media and Slack. Be distracted on your own terms, not as a Pavlovian serf to a notification’s red dot.

Beyond social media, here are some other systems in my life:

  • Place myself in an environment that makes exceptional normal: The people in the Next Chapter Community make starting a blog or podcast normal, working at Canva or GS or McKinsey normal, talking about longevity and crypto normal.
  • Investing cool-off period: After any decision to buy/sell, wait 24-48hrs to see if I would still make the same decision. This helps avoid emotionality.
  • Productivity systems: batching, energy management, and time blocking to name a few.

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” – James Clear

4/ Why and how to be more vulnerable

A weakness of mine from youth has been my hesitancy to express my thoughts and feelings, as well as talk about myself. 

If someone asked me “how was your weekend”, "good" was always the default response.

But this closes off the conversation. It makes it harder to build deep relationships with others.

Instead, say… “it was crazy – I invested in some dog coin, got drinks with a girl I met the other week, swam at Manly beach with my grandparents, and then watched Max Verstappen pull off a blinder in the F1."

Giving personal responses, even outrageous responses, facilitates conversation. It breaks the ice. It creates trust. It makes you relatable and interesting. If someone is also interested in crypto, dating, swimming, Manly beach or the F1, they now have a talking point.

5/ Just do something

Doing something is more powerful than speaking of doing something or preparing to do something. 

I have seen friends make incredible headway by just doing something. For example…

Hannah and Blake, my co-founders of our passion project, Next Chapter. What we are creating energises me to no end, and is much greater than our initial newsletter. Rumour has it a crypto token is inbound.

Will Gao, at 18 years old, closing one of the largest pre-seed rounds in Australia, led by Blackbird.

Dan Brockwell, co-founder of Earlywork and originator of the wonderful saying, “create more, consume less”.

Mihailo Bozic, starting with an idea over beers, turning it into a venture-backed startup, and learning an insane amount on the way.

Nick Mihailou, getting a YC interview at 16, and Aryaansh Rathore, managing 550k at 16.

Brent Liang, dropping USYD law to launch a podcast with Justin Kan and head up special projects at Justin’s venture studio.

The AfterWork Ventures trifecta: Jessy, Alex, Adrian, turning an ‘after work’ hobby into an interplanetary rocketship — the almost $20m raised over the past year is just the beginning.

Speak to any of these people, and none would have foreseen these outcomes. The denominator of success was that they all just did something, made incremental improvements, upped the scale of their ambition, and built from there.

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