One Year after Resigning from College

One year ago I left the University of Pittsburgh.

In early December of 2014 my mom was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. On December 22nd she shared the devastating news with me.

Two week later I went back to Pitt for the start of the second semester on January 5th.

Four days after that I had packed up my bedroom and was on a flight back home. There was no decision to be made, I knew that I wanted to be with my family.

In the time since I have had many, “when are you going back to college” discussions. I have not returned to school, and my current plan does not directly involve it.

Without school in the equation I have managed to do a lot in the past twelve months. I’m very proud of how I have grown, matured, and adapted to my new situation.

In case you were curious, here is what I have been up to during the past year.

Family

  • I have helped my mom continue to live a “normal” life.
    • This was my number one priority when I made the decision to move back home. I wanted to do everything I could to help her lead an active, engaging and interesting life.
  • As a result I have also taken some of the burden off of my dad to aid in that cause.

Health

  • Although I was consistent about going to the gym while at Pitt, I have become more committed.
    • I have exercised and written down every workout over the past year.
  • In an effort to save time I have prepared my lunch for the work week every Sunday.
    • This has also helped me increase my savings and productivity (more about that here).
  • I have finally achieved a 1000lb total in the three main lifts of power-lifting (bench, squat, dead lift).

Skills

  • I have greatly improved my knowledge and ability with Adobe Illustrator.
    • I have also learned how to use Adobe Photoshop and InDesign.
  • I learned and now understand the fundamental concepts of HTML and CSS.
  • I finally learned JavaScript and jQuery.
  • I learned my first JavaScript framework AngularJS (more on that here).
  • Recently I have started learning Angular2.
  • I’ve also become well-versed in constructing HTML emails… šŸ™
  • I have been fortunate enough to learn how to create a “scope” document for business ideas (this is what I have learned from that so far).

Career

  • In February I found a nice company to start my young career.
  • Within a few months I earned a nice raise.
  • I have been tasked with developing a new product, which has confirmed by desire to develop my own product someday (more on what I’m learning here).
  • I have managed the technical aspects of our company’s largest account for over 10 months.
  • I have also had the amazing opportunity to interview and on-boarded new employees (side-note, building a great team is hard).

Entrepreneurship

  • I started cold-emailing business about a “hiring” solution that I envision creating in the near future.
    • I actually spent a lot of time reading, writing and organizing my thoughts before I ever reached out to any companies. This was the first time I executed on an idea with patience and diligence. In the past I would simply think of something and immediately pursue it.
  • I read and took notes on The Four Steps to the Epiphany.
    • This book has greatly shaped the way I envision starting up my own business.
  • I have been fortunate to have saved enough money to potentially fund my own business.
  • I took legal steps to kill GymBro, the first company I started while in college.

Events

  • I traveled to Pittsburgh to watch the Arizona Cardinals lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • I bought a car.
    • I never thought I would dislike driving, but doing it for two hours a day wears you down quickly.
  • I traveled to Montreal for my sisters graduation from Mcgill University.
    • I found a way to lose my passport in Toronto (it is kinda fun being stuck in Canada).
  • My picture was featured on SportsIllustrated.com (thanks dad).

Education

  • I attended my first professional conference at NationJS.
  • I failed out of the community college calculus II course I enrolled in.
    • Sorry mom šŸ™ Calculus simply isn’t my thing.
  • I applied and was not admitted to the University of Maryland school of Business.
    • This was a bummer and surprise at first. Everything happens for a reason.

Writing

  • I stayed relatively consistent and published 33 articles on this blog.
  • Somehow over 17,000 people visited this website over the past twelve months (thank you).
  • I became a “most viewed” writer on Quora, accumulating over 200,000 views on my answers.

I have been busy, and I love it.

I have written in the past about a three year “goal” plan.

I strive to make those goals a reality.

The Power of Habits: Forming a Morning Routine

Doing the same thing every day is boring. Getting in a “morning routine” exacerbates this boredom, but with good reason.

What makes routines so powerful? Why are habits so important for success? Do you really need to do the same thing everyday to achieve more?

Think about all the stress associated with deciding what to eat for breakfast. If you could avoid that, would you have a more productive day?

Habits

Routines are formed around habits. Habits are specific decisions that you make, which over time become automatic — you no longer decide to do something, it just happens.

Habits are triggered by “cues”, which form “routines” that ultimately deliver a reward.

With that in mind, think about how powerful a concise morning routine can be. One habit in your routine may be to eat the same oatmeal at 6:30am each morning. Your cue for that habit could be the fact that it is 6:30am. You automatically know it is time to eat because the clock says so, that is your cue.

A slight side note… Cues are interesting and important. Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” explains in-depth how to determine what cues trigger your habits. Compelling stuff.

Routines are constructed of habits which are formed by cues. Ultimately, your routine produces some sort of reward.

In our breakfast example your reward could be the fact that you are sticking to your diet, or rather that you do not have to stress about what you are going to eat every morning.

My morning routine

Beyond breakfast, my morning routine has multiple components. I follow this routine for one main reason… to not think. By doing the same thing every morning I avoid stress and accomplish many little tasks before my day really starts. As a result I save my mental capacity for later in the day, when surprises and stress are more frequent.

This is a typical Monday – Friday morning for me.

  • Wake up at 4:15am
  • Eat a similar high protein breakfast at 4:20am
  • Bathroom break…
  • Leave for the gym at 4:50am
  • Arrive at the gym by 5:05am
  • Do my weight or aerobic training (I even have a routine for this)
  • Leave the gym at 6:15am
  • Listen to Mike and Mike until 6:30am
  • Shower and shave completed by 6:50am
  • Respond to emails and browse Hacker News until 7:10am
  • Eat a small snack, read the newspaper and leave for work by 7:30am

In the first three hours of my day I have already completed a ton of small tasks. I eat, I exercise, I read, and I relax.

By the time I leave for work at 7:30am I have accomplished more than I ever did in a whole day a few years ago. This is an amazing feeling.

The scary component of this is that it just happens. All of these habits that make up this routine simply just “occur”. I don’t question it, I embrace it.

What is the reward I get from this? Some people would argue that my routine is more punishment than privilege. I would strongly suggest it is the latter.

Aside from the mental reward I get from being productive in the morning, I get the luxury of not having to stress, not having to worry, and not having to be rushed. I leave my house everyday for work with a positive mindset.

It is on the days where my routine is interrupted that I find myself flustered, unable to concentrate and less productive.

Forming a routine

Routines can occur organically. You probably already have a few that just seem to “happen”. But, thanks to the research of people like Charles Duhigg there are a few techniques you can employ to help form your own strategic routines.

Duhigg, and other professionals suggest planning specific, measurable, reward-able, and track-able (SMART) habits. A relatively recent Washington Post article does a good job outlining how this process works.

In addition to planning SMART habits you can make your routine public information. Sharing with other people your plans reinforces the chance that you stick to them. With goal setting this is a common practice, the same can apply to routines.

James Clear also did a fantastic job outlining the time it takes to form a new habit. I would suggest reading his article to further understand why it takes up to two months for habits to become automatic.

There are plenty of other resources on line that dive deeper into habit-forming. A 2012 Chicago Tribune article helped me understand that my morning routine (albeit strange) is actually a “blessing”. And, a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology (this study is referenced in the James Clear article) helped me better understand how long it takes for routines to become automatic.

Routines are boring, but their benefits far outweigh the taste of eating the same thing for breakfast five days a week.

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