Jeff Zych

Things I Learned in 2015

I learned that writing helps clarify my thoughts. It makes me much more articulate. It forces me to engage with a topic and wrestle it to the ground so that I understand it much more deeply than I did when I started.

I learned that writing is hard. But like design and code and tennis, it’s a skill that can be practiced and learned.

I learned that blogging consistently is hard. Coming up with ideas and pushing them out into the world takes work, and takes practice to form into a habit. I learned that I’d rather focus on quality and writing about what I think is interesting, even if that means I don’t publish as often.

I learned that even when I have a lot of ideas to write about, not all of them are worth working on. I’m okay with letting ideas go rather than trying to force myself to work on them. I’ve learned this is a good litmus test for knowing what’s worth spending my time on. The most interesting topics will naturally drive me to work on them.

I learned that it’s just as much work, often more, to promote your writing, as it is to do the writing itself. I learned what it feels like to have a post at the top of Designer News. And I learned what it feels like when people misinterpret what I was trying to communicate.

Just like writing, I learned that dating takes a lot of time and energy (even when it’s online). I learned that I can’t put in that time and energy unless I’m attracted (both mentally and physically) to a woman. I can’t force it. I learned that even with online dating, or because of it, it will take a lot of dates before finding someone who feels “right.”

I learned that most single people of my generation, both men and women, are frustrated to some degree by dating. Online dating has made it easier than ever to meet people, but the increase in quantity has not increased the quality.

I learned that an abundance of choice — in products to buy, shows to watch, people to date, articles and books to read, etc. — increases the pressure of making the “right” choice. There’s always a nagging question of, “Is there something better?”

But I also learned that perfect is the enemy of done. There is no perfect. I need to continue practicing making a decision and moving on, without stressing about whether or not it was the “best” choice. There will always be a better choice, despite my best efforts.

I learned I enjoy management, more than I expected. Including the people management part (career development, promotions/raises, etc.). I learned transparency, candor, and empathy go a long way towards quelling people’s anxieties, especially amongst organizational change. And especially when delivering “bad” news, or giving critical feedback. This is as true for personal relationships as it is work relationships.

I learned that providing context, the “why,” behind a decision is more important than the decision itself. It helps people understand it, and accept it, even if they don’t agree with it. And it engenders trust.

I learned that I don’t miss designing and coding much since becoming a manager. The bits and pieces I get to do here and there, in and out of work, is usually enough.

I learned that just telling someone a lesson you’ve learned through experience is not likely to change their thoughts or behavior. Experience is the best teacher. This can be painful when you see someone making a mistake you could have prevented, but I’ve learned to accept this. (This is a good lesson to know if I ever have kids 👪 ).

Similarly, I learned that giving people information in an effort to increase their knowledge, or change their behavior, isn’t the most effective way of achieving this goal. It’s much more effective, albeit harder, to ask questions that lead a person to “earn” this knowledge themselves. By getting someone to come to their own conclusions, they’re more likely to internalize and act on that new knowledge. And they can apply the framework for gaining that knowledge to new situations. This is an art as much as it is a skill, and takes practice.

I learned that my top 5 strengths, according to the Clifton StrengthsFinder, are: 1. Learner; 2. Intellection; 3. Achiever; 4. Individualization; and 5. Analytical. Nothing too surprising, but cool to see nonetheless.

I learned that product development is hard, even when a person’s been doing it for a long time. Especially with teams, and as a company grows. I learned that as clueless as I might feel about how to run a team or build products, no one seems to have it completely figured out (even if they’re experienced and, from the outside, seem to know what they’re doing).

I learned that I like having physical books over eBooks. I display them on my shelves, which makes me much more likely to re-engage with a book after I’ve finished reading it. By seeing it, I’ll think about it more, and pick it up and flip through it. I don’t do this when a book is trapped in software. The same is generally true with music and movies, too.

I learned that underlining passages in books helps me focus on the core ideas being communicated, helps me stay engaged, helps me retain the information better, and makes it easy for me to flip through a book later and remember the key parts.

I learned that everything I spend time on has an opportunity cost. So I’m learning to get comfortable focusing on the things I most enjoy (such as writing), and accepting the cost of not doing other things (such as playing guitar).

I learned that with sustained effort over time I could be good at almost anything (art, music, programming, sports, etc.). But as my “opportunity cost” lesson indicates, I can’t be good at everything. I have to choose what to spend time on, and thus what to be good at. And with enough effort, perhaps I’ll even become great at something. 😄

Finally, I learned that I can’t possibly document everything I’ve learned in a year. There were too many lessons, big and small. Here’s looking forward to another year of learning in 2016!

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