Every December James writes a letter to himself which he reads the following December. Here’s his letter from 2016:
Dear James – You’re 30, hitting the 3 decade mark this year. It’s been a really tough year, stripping down the soul, a fascinating year of hope, pain, uncertainty, and many people looking to you to find solutions to hard problems.
In 2017 I want you to have a year of laughter. Strip away the ego and let the soul sing. Empty out the unnecessary. Instead of praying, find the time to listen to God. Listen everywhere you go. By the end of the year, you will find the abundance and peace of not pushing, not clinging, not striving, not hoping, not wanting, but being, appreciating, and loving.
You’ll be 31 soon, a grown man, a man with a family. What example do yo want to set for generations to come? By the end of this year, I will have found the principles by which I’ll live the the rest of my life. After a year like this one, you are like clay – shedding the forms of your past and choosing your true form, a form that is fully my own and not one inherited.
The theme that came up again and again is to not aim at success. I don’t know what I’ll aim at in 2017, but I’ll take these lessons to heart. I won’t be aiming for success. I’ll aim at fear, play, and connection. I’ve tasted success and it’s dry, unsatisfying, and it comes with a terrible hangover. At the end of 2017, I hope you can say that you’ve used the wisdom gained in 2016.
Love and well wishes. – James
“It’s so hard to do those 3 things [being, appreciating, and loving,] when you’re pushing a creation, company, or startup forward. It’s very hard to just be. I constantly felt like I needed to do… I constantly felt like we [James’ company Tilt] were behind the 8-ball.”
Success is meant to be a byproduct, not the sole focus
If you make the byproduct the goal, then you miss out on the meat (the real pursuit)
How does being a founder affect your personal life and relationships (like your marriage or your role as a parent)?
You NEED to be honest, upfront, and over-deliver
Back when James was building Tilt, he told his then girlfriend:
“Look, the pursuit of this company is going to be what I’m wedded to. Until we’re married, you need to know this. It’s going to be that type of priority and focus for me.”
(it obliviously was a difficult conversation, but it made the next few months easier)
James recommends scheduling weekly date nights with your partner – block them off and stick to them
“You really have to prioritize whatever you’re pursuing… and you’ve got to ask for those around to co-invest their time”
On Mental Health
James’ family has a history of mental health disorders
His oldest brother has dealt with bipolar disorder for the last 20 years
His mother also has bipolar disorder
His sister took her own life due to major depression when he was 15
The bottom line – If you’re struggling, seek help
1 in 5 individuals will battle with depression or anxiety over the course of a year
It’s way more common that we think
Here’s a tip you’ve probably never heard – get up and dance for 10-15 min.
Shaking your body shakes your vagus nerve, causing the release of dopamine
Going out for a run can also do this
We need to look at mental health like we look at physical health (where it’s more about prevention)
Making daily/weekly investments in your mental health can be really, really helpful for avoiding mental illness/struggles
Continually Audit These 5 Areas to Keep Yourself Mentally Healthy
Make sure you’re getting enough sleep
The best sleep advice James ever received – wake up every day at the same time
Make sure to read Why We Sleep, thought by many to be the best book on sleep of all time
Make sure you’re eating healthy
Avoid alcohol most of the time – it ruins sleep quality
Have a movement practice
3x a week of 15-20 minutes of aerobic exercise is plenty
Aerobic exercise is great at reducing inflammation (and inflammation can lead to a lot of anxious and depressive symptoms)
Mitigate your stress levels
One of the biggest causes of stress is overcommiting – say “no” more
Practice the art of undercommitting
“People can get in touch with us so easily today and try to get us to commit to so many different things”
Be conscious of your exogenous compound intake
Be mindful of how much caffeine you’re taking in – it’s great in the short-term and can enhance performance, but caffeine in the afternoon harms your sleep
How does James recommend founders create space to learn and develop?
The caller states – “I feel like I’m so busy chopping down trees that I don’t have time to sharpen the ax.”
Startup culture is all about doing/ making and optimizing for productivity – there’s very little time for being, listening, and just sitting quietly
This relates to a famous Abraham Lincoln quote – “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax”
“I could almost attribute all my mistakes as a founder and leader to not listening, to just feeling the impatience to always be doing, no matter how sharp or dull the ax was”
James recalls hearing that Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger carve out 4 hours/day for just thinking
We’ve conventionally made space for sleeping and relaxing on the weekends, but not for thinking time
If you’re a founder, it may be hard to set aside 4 hours a day to think, but set aside what you can