29 lessons I learned by 29

Advice from my 29th birthday.

I’m not a big fan of birthdays, but for the last years I used the opportunity to reflect on what I learned in that year. I want to make sure I constantly progress. Therefore I put together as many lessons as years I’ve lived. 29 lessons by 29 is a compilation of lessons I’ve learned turning 29. I just like the format.Sharing this helps me to hold myself accountable, introduce it to others who might find it useful and being able to check it again in a couple of years to see if I regress or not. It also embraces a big principle I live by: „always a student“.These points are in no order.

Manners. I might need a little more Californian „laissez-faire“ attitude, but I’m often really annoyed by people behaving disrespectfully, idiotic and rude. I once again learned that little details in behavior can make a big difference and manners are the basics when it comes to that. Maybe by writing about it I can create a little more awareness about the following things:

  • Covering your mouth with your hand when you yawn or cough.
  • Eating with your mouth closed and without making noises.
  • Not standing in the way of others / taking your stuff out of the way.
  • Saying „please“, „excuse me“ and „thank you“.

It’s not only about being social, it’s about being your best. The little things can make a big difference! Honestly, if I hear you smacking during a business lunch or coughing around without covering your mouth, do you really think I’d hire you? I advise a lot of respectable companies and when I’m onsite, I pay attention to that. Be aware of what you do, how you act and your surrounding.

Comfort zone. Yes, it sucks, but in most cases good things happen outside your comfort zone. I was reminded of this once again and I’ll probably be every year of my life - because it’s so true and present in every aspect of life.

Wanna grow muscle? By definition you have to overload it to grow and therefore go out of your comfort zone.

Wanna have a career? You better don’t stop learning and set yourself apart from everyone else, which happens outside of your comfort zone.

Wanna keep / build a relationship? Keep it interesting and work on it every day, which can only happen if you step it up.

Don’t measure work in time, measure in outcome. The best results come from people who are creative, healthy and happy. All three of these factors are not given with crazy work hours. This is something I realized in the Silicon Valley: everything is outcome related, instead of process driven. Is that an excuse to work less? NO! But more and more companies (and countries) experiment with less working hours, which seems to perform better in comparison. It’s all about being productive, instead of being busy. I predict that in 2-3 years we will see much more lose work formats that allow everyone to find their „sweet spot“ in terms of how many hours and when they work.

I also sincerely hate the idea that as long as you spend 8 hours in the office, you do a good job and if you’re there for 9 or 10 hours, it’s even better. That’s complete and utter bullshit. I see that idea being destroyed in the Silicon Valley, which is very outcome focused, and still lived in Europe, which is very process focused.

Grow or die. Everything has to grow or it dies. It’s one of nature’s (and economy’s) laws. For the individual, that applies to the body and mind. This idea is closely related to „comfort zone“, but also revolves around another principle and one of my mottos: always a student. If you think you figured it out, you lost. I realized that nobody can know everything (especially nowadays), but everyone should try to know as much as possible.

Charlie Munger is a great example of that. He never stops learning, but he also has a very broad knowledge. Elon Musk is another example. Those geniuses understood that there are many core principles in every discipline / area that you can transfer and connect to other areas, which allows you to better understand new topics, etc.

Embrace the core principles and transfer them. Many people just learn isolated facts but that doesn’t help. Look for the core principles and understand them.

A strong body hosts a strong mind. People often wonder how I find the time to train so much and pursue a career. I tell them: The training is the reason I have a career! Most people just see the time and think it’s pure leisure and nothing can be gained from it. But that’s a fatal mistake. The gym taught me important principles, helped me stay disciplined and focused and significantly improved cognitive functions. Discipline and commitment transfer from one aspect to other ones in life.

Settle for the second best thing. I sometimes (maybe often) choose the 2nd best thing over the best. Why? Because the endless pursuit of the best sometimes completely blocks you from moving forward. And you want to move. Why? Look at the principle of "growth".

It’s like waiting for the newest phone to come out when you have none but need to make a lot of calls. Just get something to get running and then optimize along the way!

Be grateful. Every day I think about what a privilege I have to live that life. I’m healthy, didn't grow up in poverty, etc. I even write down what I’m grateful for every day and it helps me to be happier and less angry (at stupid people).

Smile. Not for others, but for yourself. Mindset follows the body. So if you smile, you’ll get yourself into a happier headspace. I see so many people who’s face already tells you they smile maybe once a year. I never want to be that person.

Flow state. There is a new concept I learned about, called „flow state“. It’s basically that state in which you’re super productive and focused. I don’t remember who came up with it, but I’ve experienced it a couple of times without really realizing it was something that can be stimulated. I just thought I had a good day or a good session. But flow state can be „triggered’ or „learned“. What helps is:

  • pushing your body
  • learning something new
  • doing something creative
  • shocking the central nervous system (e.g. with cold showers, heavy weights, hard sprints)

Try something new and give it 6 times. This year I’ve tried some vlogging, which can be uncomfortable in the beginning but can teach you a lot. I learned how often I use certain words („uhm“, „ah“, etc.) and how monotonous my voice sounds when I present something. I’ve internalized and worked on that and it has already improved my presenting style.

Instant gratification. For quite a while I’m not seeking it anymore, I’m much more turned on by quietly working hard for a long time and then harvesting the results.

Attention. Best quoted by Jordan Feigenbaum, a strength coach I look up to:


Extreme ownership. Everything is your fault. Whoooot? I really learned to love the idea of taking ownership for EVERYTHING that happens to me and in my world. I’m not speaking about things I can’t control. I’m speaking about giving all the responsibility in your life away. It works incredibly well, because taking responsibility for everything forces you to become better, doesn’t leave space for excuses („I couldn’t be on time because there was traffic“ -> „well, why didn’t you check traffic beforehand or leave earlier?“) and makes you reflect before blaming others. You also realize that you can influence everything, hence becoming better.

Shape your mind. Stop making statements like „it’s just the way I am“ or "guess I'm just not that type of person". You are what you do and what you decide you are. I’m talking about making changes for the positive or put to sleep bad habits. Force yourself to improve. Use reminders or post-its on your mirror or something. If you've got that figured out, what in the world can stop you!?

So many people think they’re a slave of their environment or upbringing or adversity. But that’s not true. You are what you decide you are. Long before Tony Robbins became successful, he created Tony Robbins in his mind. Same with most other successful people. So why can’t you?

It starts with a vision of who you want to be and then doing everything to get closer to that vision.

„To retire is to die“ - Pablo Casals. At this point in my life, I can’t imagine to ever retire because I just love what I do. Maybe I think differently in a couple of years, maybe never. But when that time comes, I’ll make a change until I’m in that state again. Life ist too short to do something you hate (for a long time).

The best application is a combination of theoretical science and real life experience. Science and studies can be very flawed. It’s not useless at all, but we cannot purely rely on it. I learned that a lot by lifting weights, where it becomes very obvious that some things work due to principles that we cannot yet scientifically explain 100%. But that also occurred to me in other areas of life. Theory is not enough. It has to be constantly validated by application. Vice versa, if there is something that applies all the time, theory has to catch up.

No millionaire has ever become a millionaire by reading books about how to become a millionaire.

Keep pushing, but stop worrying about not doing enough all the time. Instead of reading 3 articles about the „x things Steve Jobs did and you should do as well“ or „five things to make you instantly happier„, better use the time to be productive, sleep, eat or unwind. Stop worrying about everything and everyone. It just puts a shitload of stress on your mind. There are things you cannot control and the sooner you accept that the earlier you can start using that brain power on really important things.

Stop trying to find the secret, it’s not out there. That accounts for career, fitness, and personal development. The only „secret“ is hard, hard work. It will get you where you want, not a click bait article. There is not trick or shortcut.

You have to make tough decisions. A lot. I’m talking about the „do I want to move to the US?“ or „do I want to take this job“ kind of decisions. What I learned is that there is never a perfect solution for those „problems“. You’ll always have to make compromises, every tough decision has an up- and a downside. That’s why they’re tough! So don’t expect to find a perfect solution, settle with the best choice.

The second thing I learned about them is how to approach them. Take your time to think deeply about them. I mean really deep, for a couple of hours. Not while you’re in front of the TV or doing something else, just think about it really hard. Go for a walk, go to the beach and think.

Then consult with people who you trust, who are in best case older or more experienced than you. Let them challenge your thoughts and expand your horizon.

Finally, consult with people who have done it before. And then make your choice. Give yourself a deadline until when you made a choice, otherwise, you’ll push it forever. Once the choice is made, don’t regret it. Reflect on it, but don’t regret it. Learn from it.

Question your own beliefs. Ugh, that’s a tough one. And it hurts. But it’s important! Avoid „first-conclusion bias“, meaning to try to confirm the opinion you’ve build. Instead, you should try to disprove it all the time. It’s not an easy thing to do, but you either realize your opinion is wrong and you have the chance to build a right one, or your views become solidified.

30s are the new… F it! One year left until the big 3 comes, but honestly, I couldn’t care less. I’m getting better than ever, stronger and have more fun than ever. The thought of 30s being some sort of magic border and everything going downhill from there is just as outdated and BS as the idea of retiring. It’s what you make it, not what society thinks it should be.

Get ready. Life will (try) to kick you in the nuts and throw some nasty shit at you. You cannot, cannot, cannot prevent it, but you can prepare for it. You might be able to minimize shit, but not prevent it. You have to get ready financially, mentally and physically.

Being humbled is a good thing. It grounds you again and gives you a reality-check. Only when you know where you really are, can you improve. One of the coolest graphics I found shows exactly that point (intersection of yellow and green curve).


Therefore, a true expert never pretends to know it all. The earlier you realize that, the better ;-).

There will always be someone better. Someone more talented, genetically gifted, who passes you in a heartbeat or accomplishes in 6 months what you worked two years for. Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard. But when it does, it can be frustrating to realize you have no chance, whatever you do. But only initially, because hard work always bears results. It’s more important to realize how far you’ve come than where you are (to a certain degree of course).

And then you have to realize that you have a unique mix of qualities that nobody can copy or surpass. You might not be the best at one thing, but maybe really good at several things OR really damn good at another thing.

Pick your battles. Don’t only do what you’re passionate about, do what you’re good at. The notion of „following your dreams“ is neat and nice as long as you can actually rock it. If it’s highly unrealistic you better be an Elon Musk or Steve Jobs, otherwise, you might want to see if there’s a better thing you can devote your time to.

Also, be aware that passion can change. Some stay passionate about playing piano for all their live, some just for a solid 4 weeks.

Some people can’t be helped, don’t bother. Some people buy a brand new iPhone 7 and a case with a freakin’ headphone jack. Some people want Google to pay money for showing their search results. They’re out there but ignore them.

There is something about physical books. I just started to read some again. For the longest time I thought they were a waste of paper and books should be digital. I changed my mind on that one. You understand a book differently when you hold it physically in your hands and work through it with a pen in your hand. I can’t really explain why, but that’s just what I learned.

Bonus: One question I really like is Peter Thiel’s „What is something you strongly believe that most people don’t?“. It’s a challenging question if you really think about it, but I like challenges. So here is my answer:I believe that not everyone should have the right to vote. I believe the right to vote should be earned. Brexit and the success of Donald Trump show that the mass is easy to manipulate (we don’t know since then, but those are very recent proofs) to make very questionable decisions. Now, of course, that’s only my point of view and from somebody else's it might make perfect sense. But look at the demographics these votes were coming from. I don’t want to go into detail too much. My point is that there should be a test or standard that allows you to vote. Age is a good start, maybe we should also factor in education. I'd love to have a conversation around that and learn more.