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Lessons Learned in 2009

Cambridge after snow
Photo taken by me

The other day, I was speaking with my colleague and friend Angie Han about what kind of year this has been for me. I wasn’t in a particularly good mood at the time, so the one word that I used to describe it was “Terrible.” She wished me a better 2010, and asked me if I’d learned any lessons from 2009. For the life of me, I couldn’t articulate any lessons I had learned, and that fact actually began to depress me even more.

It wasn’t until the next morning while I was in the shower, I was struck with a bunch of lessons that I’d learned this year. And I realized that the reason they hadn’t occurred to me is because even though I did learn a bunch of stuff, most of it isn’t particularly helpful or applicable. It’s just…stuff?

So here are my lessons of 2009, in no particular order:

The Films of the Coen Brothers Collectively Present a Compelling Worldview –
Money is not everything. The world is going to hell in a handbasket and there is nothing we can do to stop it. Only those who dare to be decent will be punished. The Dude abides. Accept the mystery.

The Vocal Minority – Let’s say you do a podcast, or run a website, or write a blog: As a general matter, your critics will be much more vocals than your fans. This means that even though the ratio of people who like you to people who dislike you is 10:1, the ratio of positive comments to negative comments will be closer to 1:1. This will create the illusion that most people don’t like your work and that your life’s labor is meaningless. On a related matter….

Encouragement – There’s the oft-repeated fact that it takes 43 muscles to frown and only 17 to smile, so we should all smile a hell of a lot more. Even though that “fact” is actually complete bull crap, it is actually a lot easier to provide encouragement than discouragement. If you’re eating at a restaurant and your waitress/waiter is great, take a few minutes and tell their manager how you feel about them. I guarantee you it will make their day. If you read a blog post that moves you or makes you think, send an e-mail/twitter/IM and let the author know how much you appreciate it. Positive vibes are a lot easier to send people than negative ones, and everyone will feel better in the end if you focus more energy on the former.

I’m a Mac and a PC – PCs and Macs have significantly different advantages. Neither one is definitively “better” than the other, despite what many internet writers may claim.

Today – No matter what people say about how you can always turn things around, many decisions you make today will affect you for the rest of your life. Occasionally, these decisions can have profoundly negative effects that will change you forever.

Opportunities That Are There Today May Not Be There Tomorrow – Seize the day, and don’t let go until you’ve drained out every last ounce of hope and possibility.

Proverbs 17:17 – “A friend loves at all times.”

Respect – On a long enough timeline, the respect you have for people you greatly admire will approach zero.

Lea Michele is a really good singer.

Stories – A well-told story can change someone’s life in ways you cannot imagine.

Mistakes – It is possible to screw up so royally that you feel no more desire to exist. How you react to your mistakes dictates who you truly are.

Challenge – Finding something you are good at can be a lot different than finding something that challenges you. In the best of worlds, you can do something that is both.

Hope – It can keep someone alive.

Twitter and the online film community – No one seems to care about the fact that when people see us bickering like schoolchildren, it makes us all look bad. To be clear, I am referring to all of us collectively, including me, and no one specific. But on that note….

Calling People Out – If you’re going to bother to do this on Twitter or anywhere else, do it by name. Don’t wuss out. It just makes things confusing and unpleasant for everyone.

Survivors – In general, the ones that will prosper may not be the smartest or the best. They just have to be first, business-savvy, and “good enough.”

Success – No amount of professional success can ever compensate for personal shortcomings.


I was talking with my friend Matt yesterday he said something that I hope will be prescient: “I sense great new things this decade, Dave. I sense this decade will be the decade of not giving up.”

I hope he is right.