“I wasn’t in a hurry. I never have to be in any particular place at any particular time. Let time watch me, not me it.”
–Olga Tokarczuk, Flights
I will divide my year-in-review into the following sections:
Part 1: Mind
I used the same question framework as last year:
- Am I at peace with myself?
- Am I developing my capabilities and learning in the right ways?
- Am I happy?
Am I at peace with myself?
Yes — to a greater degree than last year. There are two dimensions to this answer.
I am more relaxed than ever about giving up control. This year, I realized that wanting things done perfectly created an unnecessary amount of anxiety and affected my relationships with people.
I was demanding and exact in how I wanted specific outcomes. I expected people, both business associates and friends, to behave in certain ways. This escalated when I blew up at a couple of friends for no good reason. In the process, I created a vicious cycle of stress and frustration.
When things do not work out, it is generally a good idea to look into the mirror. Intellectually, I would never expect predictability from the real world, especially when it comes to running something as risky and unpredictable as a startup. This desire for control, however, spread itself into other parts of my life.
Humans are irrational beings. We apply varying mental frameworks to different aspects of our lives. I have a friend who makes the perfect career decisions but is indecisive when it comes to his love life. Another friend treats his partner with utter devotion but cannot formulate the same principles towards anything else. It is the rare individual who can be equally and consistently excellent in all domains.
I have an innate need for control; it is part of who I am. As I could not fulfill this need in the context of business, I let it spill into the other parts of my life. This created a vicious cycle.
Upon realizing this, I began the process of training my emotional responses to external stimuli. Reading Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning was a great help and inspiration.
I developed one simple word to calm myself when the anxiety builds up:
Speaking this word involves the humility to deeply internalize one thing: the universe does not revolve around me. I am but one small insignificant speck in the galaxy.
Letting things go is a responsive muscle that must be developed over time. The work is just beginning, although early signs are promising.
Just the other day, there was a last-minute cancelation for a jazz performance that I had purchased tickets for. It was something that my wife and I had been looking forward to attending for the holidays.
The customer representative who called me sounded apologetic and explained that there was a problem with the ticketing platform. The old James would have snapped at her, especially in the midst of a hectic holiday season. This time around, I laughed it off and rolled with it. I even wished the rep the best with her next customer.
The other dimension to being at peace is growing more comfortable with who I am. Not to chase things for others’ approval, or to do something unenjoyable for social equity reasons.
More than ever, I am seeking my own internal alignment on things. I am staying true to how I live my life and values.
Being authentic is important. Calling people out on their hypocrisy is important. Calling myself out on my own inconsistency and/or ridiculousness is also important. That’s why I’m writing this retrospective.
The world is massive beyond measure, and we have infinite ways to maintain the positive, nurturing relationships. Keep the good people around and do what we can to minimize the toxic ones.
Nurturing good requires constant reflection, determination and practice. One must work hard to be at peace.
“Discipline = freedom”
Am I developing my capabilities and learning in the right ways?
I began my journey with CardBoard.Live over a year ago. Heading into 2020, I feel more comfortably settled with how things are run. I’ve developed both personal and organizational routines to help us strategize and execute.
This is a good thing, but the byproduct of process and structure is that I don’t feel as challenged as I was in those “early days.”
Those who have followed my journey know that the one thing that scares me is complacency. CardBoard.Live has gained traction in the market, and the relative comfort we’ve enjoyed makes me uncomfortable.
Instead, I am learning to reframe the situation in front of me. 2019 has been about resilience and patience. Many things lie outside of one’s control. When running a startup, it is critical to get a few key macro-decisions right. The big-picture strategy matters much more than the daily or weekly micro-decisions.
The reality is that everything matters. I’ve harnessed my mind, however, to focus on the big things. This helps me relax and avoid an over-abundance of anxiety. Putting things in perspective, and not agonizing over every small thing, is my way of ceding the need for absolute control.
I feel good with how we have been progressing as a company. To be alive and kicking as an emerging startup is huge. That’s what resilience means to me. To enjoy where we are right now, and not take things for granted, is a major accomplishment.
I’ve started working on a few things to develop myself that do not fall into the realm of traditional structured learning. Nonetheless, they have proven most fulfilling:
- Re-training myself to think critically. Breaking things down into First Principles reasoning [Explanation 1 | Explanation 2] and not defaulting to thinking via analogy, as I tend to do 95% of the time.
- Having 1-on-1 conversations with friends about political, religious, and existential topics. Actively listening, considering multiple points of view, and being open to admitting my own ignorance. Quality conversations can be had outside of the public sphere, when good intentions override the need to be performative in front of the crowd.
- Cooking. There is something therapeutic about making things with one’s own hands. I have historically stayed away from the kitchen, but opted to try expanding my horizons this year.
- Reading fiction, i.e. reading for pure enjoyment. I finished 21 books this year, which is a low number compared to my previous three years. In terms of absolute numbers, however, I’ve completed more novels in 2019 than the past three years combined. I am re-discovering the joy of reading purely for pleasure, as a way to wind down before bedtime.
Books read in 2019
Movies watched in 2019
(A / B / C = my rating)
Am I happy?
“Happiness is the joy you feel while striving towards your potential.”
Yes, I am happy. For remaining intellectually curious. For realizing my own inadequateness and taking steps to address them.
Happiness is not a binary yes-or-no question. It is a scale that one must constantly dedicate resources towards improving.
For now, I am happy.
Part 2: Body
Things I’m happy about:
- I exercised an average of 3 times per week.
- I reduced my body fat percentage down to 15%.
- I can now perform 5 military pull-ups in a row — up from 2 last year. I achieved this without dropping weight, which I am quite happy about. (My weight is currently 76 kilograms.) What I’d like to do next year is hit 15 pull-ups in a row.
- I started running 8-10 km distances again. My rehab process from last year’s major setback is chronicled here.
- I overeat when I am stressed.
- Sleep is the ultimate performance enhancing drug.
- I love good food, probably a bit too much. It is mentally hard for me to eat at a super healthy level. To reach the 10-12% body fat range, I know I will need to drastically alter my diet.
- I need a trainer for motivation. My biggest gains at the gym this year came about as a result of a trainer spurring me on.
- Not overdoing exercise is key. Much better to be able to re-enter the gym the next day than to feel sore for five days straight. Stretching is critical.
- Healthy habits matter, especially as mental aids on the days I don’t feel like going to the gym. Examples: drinking more tea, drinking less coffee, cranking out 60 pushups at home in the morning, taking long walks, taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
- On an off-day, I try to get some bodyweight exercises done at home, with the philosophy that “doing something is better than nothing.”
Part 3: Professional
It’s been a good year.
Working with Wilson and the CBL team has been a rewarding experience. I am happy, grateful, and hopeful for what is to come.
In terms of tournaments, we powered all of the Magic Mythic Championship and MPL Weekly events. We powered all StarCityGames and ChannelFireball events with video coverage, and are beginning to work with more partners such as CardMarket and Red Bull.
We introduced several key technological innovations on our platform, some of which have never been deployed at scale for ANY collectible trading card game.
Our Arena streaming solution has enjoyed massive adoption by the biggest streamers in the game. We are listening closely to community feedback to better serve content creators and viewers.
For a detailed chronicle of events, please visit the CardBoard.Live blog. Shameless plug: I wrote all ten blog posts there. That does explain why I’ve written considerably less on my personal blog in 2019.
For thoughts on the future of CBL — I recorded an “Ask Me Anything” episode that addresses it.
For general thoughts on startups and learnings in this space — my article in Entrepreneur’s Handbook. Special thanks to Dave Schools for giving me a platform to signal boost the message.
Humans of Magic
This has been a fruitful year for Humans of Magic. 19 podcast episode releases, 15 of them posted on ChannelFireball.
The show has become more listenable as I become more intentional in how I conduct the interviews. I actively work to foster an environment where my guests feel that they can be honest, open and vulnerable. Today, I enter conversations with an open mind and the intense desire to learn from each guest.
For more details on the Humans of Magic “method” and the show’s future — the “Ask Me Anything” episode covers it.
Oh yeah, I also published a book.
In October, I released my book tie-in, Humans of Magic: Interviews with the Game’s Greatest Minds.
Here is a video review by Tolarian Community College:
Definitely one of my year’s highlights, for sure. It was an incredible honor to be featured in one of The Professor’s reviews. He is definitively the biggest MTG content creator on YouTube, and a huge inspiration to content creators everywhere.
Part 4: Relationships
I’m pleased with how I spent time with my immediate family this year — wife, brother, parents, and in-laws. This year was a breakthrough in some ways. I took steps to be more selfless in helping them without expecting anything concrete in return.
Once I loosened my standards of having to be right all the time, and re-purposed my negative energy towards love and acceptance, positive things happened.
Focusing on the fundamentals — and not holding familial grudges for too long — is something that I’ve gotten better at this year.
Related to resisting the need for control, I’ve come to expect less from friendships. Hold on to the good friends and accept their flaws 🙂
I gave friends more unconditional support in 2019, in terms of my attention, helping them clear obstacles, and attempting to win (and start) less arguments.
I gave my friends the benefit of the doubt. People are busy, right? I try not to take things too personally. Relax.
People are messy, insecure, and irrational. If I’m going to be friends with anyone, I have to accept this fact.
Some friendships have ended due to a lack of mutual effort, or vastly different interests. And that’s okay. It’s a big world out there.
Bonus section: on overcoming addiction
Addiction comes in all shapes and sizes.
In 2016, I wrote a book about my experiences in overcoming an unhealthy Magic obsession.
In 2019, the addiction is to my smartphone. I find myself checking Twitter approximately 3,219 times a day. I confine checking email to a few times a day, although I know many friends who struggle with this, too.
Last year I wrote about the dangers of Internet addiction and how I was going to try and overcome it.
Well…it’s been tough.
As a content creator, I post my creations publicly on social media. As a result, I monitor their reach to see how things are going. Before you know it, I get a few mentions in my notifications tab — and then I’m sucked back in.
It is a hedonistic treadmill with no end in sight. I’ve tried everything, short of deleting my social media accounts.
Rather than go completely cold turkey this year, I’ve decided to take a more measured approach. As I see it, the way to overcome this addiction is to replace it with healthier and worthier things — to gradually phase it out over time.
What are healthier activities? Well, when I am immersed in “deep work” or exercise, I am locked into that activity. As I am writing this article, or going through a rowing machine workout, I am not glued to my smartphone.
This means that I have to create more situations in which I can do these things. Creating deadlines for myself, scheduling deep work in advance, scheduling workouts in advance, seeking out hard goals…these are all ways to get there.
I’m sure that a few folks reading this go through the same challenges. Let’s collectively imagine the things that we could do if we reduced our smartphone “consumption.”
The possibilities are endless.
That’s all, folks.
How about you? Let me know how your year was.