It’s been a hell of a year.
From navigating a break-up on a road-trip across three countries (fun times) to losing a major contract due to COVID-19, 2020 was like one of those toxic exes you’ll still think about five years into your marriage.
And yet, this has been the most fruitful year of my life so far.
Throughout this global upheaval, I learned more about myself and how life works. I’ll spare you the kumbaya moralities — our situations are different — but perhaps you can use what I’ve learned to improve your own life, career, and business.
Here are 8 crucial lessons I learned in 2020:
#1 Find better opportunities
After years of feeling like I’d hit a ceiling where I was, I started looking for greener pastures. Being in limbo messes with my psyche, so after months of careful planning, I finally packed up, sold my studio, and moved to another country.
As a young, educated man with ample savings and no undue financial burdens, I recognize my privilege in being able to make this kind of major life change. It’s why I’ve spent the better part of my life and career trying to show other people how and where to find lucrative opportunities — not just because I believe there’s enough to go around, but mostly because I need you to be rich so I can send you hefty quotes.
Take advantage of every opportunity around you and use the ideas in your head to build the life you want. All knowledge can be commercialized.
#2 Stay the course
The first few weeks after getting back in the gym were discouraging. I’d look in the mirror and see no gains and start doubting the process. But I know myself — competition is what drives me. My gym is stocked with ridiculously buff men whose back muscles rotate visibly as they do chin-ups. These gents never dress fully, either — they want you to see every pound of muscle they’ve worked hard to sculpt. It’s exactly the motivation I need to keep at it so that one day I can also wear a g-string vest and flex my man-titties in the mirror.
A few months in and I’m starting to see some results: I’m sleeping better, more focused, and gaining mass around my upper body. The gym has also been a wonderful excuse to eat any and everything under the sun in the name of “gains.” Why yes, Mr Waiter, I’ll have the large steak.
#3 Connect with people
Whether online or IRL, connect with people from all walks of life. Your weak ties are where the money lies — and past a certain point, your success depends on your ability to seek out, talk to people, and ask for what you want.
I’m not saying you should drop your boundaries and let everyone in — that’s poor social hygiene — but you should definitely step out of that shell you’re hiding in. The world isn’t out to get you, I promise.
#4 The internet is your friend
I honestly can’t say this enough. You can learn anything on the internet — and also sell anything on it. You can find the most wonderful people and be found, too.
Your socials and website are the first things people come across when they look for you — but are you visible and presentable? Do your posts make people think “this is someone I want to befriend or work with”? How are you leveraging the greatest tool of our generation to land new opportunities?
#5 Writing brings opportunities
The single greatest lever to my success this year has been my writing. I can’t count how many times my blog, newsletter, or website have tipped the scales in my favour. Recruiter after recruiter mentions my writing in interviews, and I’ve made friends who connected with me online simply because one blog or another resonated with them.
Writing online is a powerful way to establish yourself personally and professionally. This tweet by David Perell sums it up perfectly:
#6 Your income and location are not tied
If you can learn anything from anywhere, you can sell anything from anywhere. COVID-19 pushed all of us online — and people are now running entire businesses from their laptops. The rise of remote working has been well-documented (see here, here, here, and here), and you can now find new jobs and clients with a simple Google Search. No matter what you enjoy doing, there’s a way to monetize your skills and knowledge online (*cough* OnlyFans *cough*).
Kanyi Maqubela, a South African from Soweto who has worked with Barack Obama and now runs a venture capital fund in the US, put it succinctly:
#7 Focus on your strengths
If you’re like me, you suffer from the curse of curiosity. You’re excited to learn new things — but it also means you’re spread thin across different interests with no clear way to improve or monetize them.
One of the key lessons I learned this year was to hone in on my strengths (content marketing) and find a way to deepen my knowledge on it to become a T-shaped marketer. Here’s a quick video that explains this concept in more detail:
Here’s the main image from the video:
No matter what field you’re in, it helps to specialize while improving your foundational knowledge. For example, you might want to become the best chef in the country — but you’ll still need to understand basic wine pairings, how to source ingredients, how restaurant finances work, the basics of hospitality hiring, time management, and more.
#8 It gets easier
Your first cold call will feel like swallowing nails, but the second will only be half as hard. Your first interview will induce anxiety, but the 5th one will feel like a bar conversation with an old friend. The key is to do everything twice.
Today marks Day 42 of my interviews with clients and companies all over the world. I’ve had 21 interviews so far — one every ~2 days — and I’ve been tracking every round in a master spreadsheet. The process gets exponentially easier after each round. You learn how to improve your applications, what to say, and what not to say. With that said, let’s just say 2021 will be a great year.
On to the next
2020 was a rollercoaster ride that I’m grateful I got to experience. 2021 promises to be a smashing year, and I can’t wait to dive in. This will be my last post for 2020 — I’ve now written 30 Letters! — and I’ll see you all in Jan.
Till next year,
In my last post, I gave some tips to help you crush your next sales call. Read it:
Need to talk about your brand, career, or project? Get in touch.
Mohammed Shehu, Ph.D. writes on marketing, content, and tech for fast-growing B2B clients. You can find him online @shehuphd everywhere.