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Letter #14 from a Learn-it-all

7 min

Hello fellow learner,

Greetings from Grosse Pointe, Michigan.

I went swimming outside for the first time since the last decade! It was so lovely. I set a baseline goal of swimming 100 laps and I actually surprised myself and accomplished it. It reminded me how much I’ve missed swimming, the nostalgic smell of chlorine, and how great it can feel to achieve a goal. I got to focus on my breath and counting the laps.  Typically, when I bike or jog, I have music or a podcast playing, but for swimming, I was just in my head. By being away from technology for the 90 minutes, I found it quite meditative.

I went for another dip today and after my swim cap ripped, I realized how grateful I was to have one in the first place. It wasn’t game-over for the workout, but they are a game-changer. They help avoid the drag of my hair, create aerodynamics, and free up my vision.

Now, let’s dive into letter #14 from a learn-it-all. Enjoy!

Some things I’ve learned through…

🖊 Writing

Everyone on the team got a participant trophy at the end of the season no matter what.

At the end of each of my dance or piano lessons, I would get a sticker for merely attending even if I gave an awful performance. If I paid attention and was decent, I would get two stickers.

That is the “Trophy Generation”.

Millennials, or anyone born after 1981 through 1997, grew up receiving participation trophies just for showing up. People between the ages 23 and 39 have a room full of trophies somewhere for no reason at all. This trophy collection has rendered millennials unfit for work. Because of it, they were coddled as children and are now seen as entitled. In actuality, they never asked for these trophies. According to self-determination theory, rewards can create motivation.  However, these extrinsic incentives didn’t create an intrinsic driving force to improve.

Growing up playing sports, I understood the difference between participating and first place. I knew that I wasn't a natural. I would compare my efforts to those next to me and realize I couldn't perform as well as them. I had to put forward the effort and extra time during practice to perform well enough. Because I perceived myself as lacking the raw talent of my peers, after each season, I found myself desiring to be the most improved. This meant focusing my attention on my personal growth.

I had a love-hate relationship with swim trials at the beginning of each summer season.

My times would always be drastically worse than my personal best of the previous year. I would use those to fuel momentum to not only get back to where I once was but to surpass it. With hard work, listening to the coach, and showing up every day, twice a day. These starting times were seen merely as that, baseline data to improve upon during the season ahead.

This incentivized me. It pushed me to want to improve more rather than be complacent or entitled to a trophy. I learned early on to seek feedback to improve my abilities.

🤯 Doing

This week, I started taking this course taught by Nat Eliason on how to use Roam to create effortless output. Historically, I have been an Evernote user, and I have made the executive decision to transition over. The main reason being to create a better system to help me organize my life and create. It is a note-taking tool for networked thought while also combining personal CRM (Contact Relationship Management) with journaling, a taskmaster, and a knowledge management system. It feels a bit chaotic learning this foreign tool because I am used to a hierarchy of connecting ideas to one concept. The fun part with Roam is its metacognition is similar to our brains where each idea is organic and can connect to countless notes.

🎧 Listening

I listened to ROLL On: Owning Your Story with Rich Roll answering questions from his listeners and share stories from his life. Some highlights include:

On creating a new story for your reality:

What you decide to focus on becomes your reality. So if you can free yourself from being overly focused on those buds along that branch [of your identity] and those instances that create this story, you have the power to create a new story for yourself

On updating stories of hard things you’ve done as a reminder:

I know I'm capable of more than that other old story tells me, which is that, I'm not good, and I'm an imposter. I use those stories for the benefit that they can give me, but I don't allow them to hinder me from growth.

On why he became an endurance athlete:

I got into endurance sports to learn more about myself, not to just become an endurance athlete. It wasn't about podiums and winning races and all of that, and also wasn't about being a competitive athlete for the rest of my life. I wanted to more deeply connect with who I am, so I could be more authentic in my expression of myself. And as a result of having that experience, I learned a lot about myself, and I'm committed to continually growing and evolving rather than just doing this one thing staying in my lane and pleasing a certain number of people.

On why to bother with personal growth:

What's the point? If you're not going to continue to get outside of your comfort zone, challenge yourself and grow. And the point of pushing out of your comfort zone is is to remind yourself and learn the lesson over and over again that I can be more than I thought I was.

📖 Reading

Before starting this newsletter, making my online home or becoming a citizen of the Internet, I never really considered myself a ‘creative’. Austin Kleon explains in 10 concise chapters how he breaks down what it means to be a creative thinker and how to Steal like an Artist. It’s jam-packed with amusing stories and inspiring quotes. He practices what he preaches and puts at the back of the book who he himself stole from. This book is filled with graphics that were powerful in adding meaning to the text. It was a thought-provoking read that I recommend to anyone who is struggling to create or thinks they have to be original.

On stealing like an artist:

Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one of more previous ideas.
Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don't come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.

On how side projects and hobbies are important:

Rather than the music taking away from my writing, I find it interacting with my writing and making it better— I can tell that new synapses in my brain are firing, and new connections are being made.

On why geography is no longer our master:

You have to leave home. You can always come back… Travel makes the world look new, and when the world looks new, our brains work harder.

On how creativity is subtraction:

What makes us interesting isn't just what we've experienced, but also what we haven't experienced.

We have the gift of the Internet where we can find our virtual mentors that we should take advantage of. It inspired me to want to take more action:


I watched novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie share her TED Talk the danger of a single story. She tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice. She warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

The ability, not just to tell the story of another person but to make it the definitive story of that person.
Experience flattens it out by only revealing the good or the bad times. We need to engage with all the stories of that place in that people. We need to balance the stories. Stories matter.
One story is not representative of a whole people, a single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but they are incomplete. They make one story, the only story.
The consequence of a single story is that it robs people of their dignity, emphasizes how people are different, rather than similar.

Word to define

Day job as defined by Austin Kleon gives you money,  a connection to the world, and a routine. Freedom from financial stress also means freedom in your art. He advises seeking a day job that leaves you with enough energy to make things in your spare time. It doesn’t have to be a dreaded 9 to 5.

🌟 Quote to inspire

“I have stolen all of these moves from all these great players. I just try to do them proud, the guys who came before, because I learned so much from them. It's all in the name of the game. It's a lot bigger than me.” -Kobe Bryant

💭 Question to ponder

Whenever you're at a loss for what move to make next, ask yourself: what decision would make a better story of my life?

I appreciate you reading this! If any of the ideas resonated or you have feedback to improve, feel free to leave a comment, replying to this email, or sending me a message on Twitter @JenVermet.

Never stop learning 😁

Until next week,


P.S. if you want to get a great song stuck in your head that I’ve been swimming to listen here.

P.P.S Here is a picture of my family’s tiger-looking tabby cat, Hummer, doing what she does best: snoozing the Sunday away

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