2011 review: 28 in fifty-two notes: a year’s worth of writing, lessons, and people

Another year, another day, another second. Each moment we get a little older, and hopefully a little bit wiser. Yesterday I turned 28, and I can hardly believe it. I’m nearly done with my twenties: somehow it feels like I should be getting on with my life, setting an example, and doing stuff worth doing. At the same time, I feel as though everything’s just beginning, that we’re only getting started, and that the fun times that have transpired are peanuts to what’s ahead.

In looking back, I’ve realized several things this past year. First, I love the internet. Second, I am blown away and amazed by the number of people that I’ve met through this web of stories – this side-kick, this second life I have: blogging. I am grateful, inspired, and lucky to be here, living this life.

One year ago, I made a pact to myself that year 27 was not going to be small or meek; that it wasn’t going to be solo or quiet. I wrote one thing down in my notebook: meet people. Get outside of my books and notes, and start living. Even though I am an INTJ – slightly more introverted than extroverted in my personality type – I decided to go for big, join twitter (September 2010, yes, late, I know), learn as much as I could, and say yes to whimsy, fun, exploration, and adventure. And all I can say is — well, I’m never looking back.

For my 28th birthday, I’ve made me — and you! — a small present. I made a collection of 52 things from my notebooks, of lessons, notes, observations and conversations I’ve had around the way as I travel through life.  There’s a note for each week: a collection of wisdom, inspiration, and joy that I’ve found, heard, listened to or gathered from meeting so many incredible people.  This is just a smattering of the genius I’ve encountered along the way: a bevy of brilliant minds, an assortment of awesome adventurers.  Thank you, all of you, for making this year phenomenal.

1.  Start early. Something about worms, right? Early birds get them.

2. Most things worth doing can’t be done in just a day. Build houses and things that need your dedication. The landscape architects I know who worked on the High Line, Simon & Helen Director Park, or on Mary Bartelme Park didn’t wake up to a finished design one sudden day. Teams of people worked slowly, methodically each day for years to build places in the world.

3. Practice being nice. You can get better at everything. Nice, like anything else, gets better with practice. You are what you consistently do.* (This one’s from @Aristotle. He’d tweet it if he could, I’m sure.)

4. Be nice to yourself. Be nice to yourself. When you do good work, stop and say congratulations. When you work hard, acknowledge that, too. Suzannah Scully is one of the kindest people I know, and her blog always makes me smile. On my desk and bookmarked is a list of ten things for right now – reminders to keep me sane and to stay kind to myself.

5. You will probably only do one or two useful things each day. Pick wisely.

6. Doing it later is usually a lie you tell yourself. And this goes straight to the next one:

7. You either ARE or you AREN’T. Which is it? Stop lying to yourself. If you’re not doing it, you’re not doing it. Later isn’t a guarantee, and today is already yesterday’s later. If you’re not doing it now, and weren’t doing it before, all signs point towards the likelihood that your behavior isn’t going to change.  So what to do? Be honest. And second, realize that what got you where you are is not going to take you the places that you want to go.

8. What got you here won’t get you there. If you want to keep getting better, you have to keep trying new things. If you want to stay the same, keep doing what you’re already doing.

9. Turn off all alerts. They are just interruptions and distractions. I know. I’m a recovering Facebook Addict.

10. “Checking” is psychologically addictive behavior. Social media is brilliant – it’s as though we’ve put the human element of interaction, interconnectivity and buzz back into our stoic factory-relics of offices, allowing people to breathe and be personable again. However, the technological aspects of email, twitter, messaging, phones, and immediate notifications do nothing but wreak havoc on our ability to focus for solid periods of time. Email in particular preys on our addictive psychological make-up that rewards us with dopamine and seratonin when we receive new messages. Control the monkey brain. Turn off alerts. Set times and patterns. Learn how to over-turn your genetic faults and be better within a nearly-impossible-to-control framework. Who knows – you might also be happier.

11. What do you want? I’ve started asking this of everyone and everything I’m doing. It’s brilliant. Try it.

12. Believe in magic. Good things happen if you’re willing to watch, listen, and go a different way home.

13. Think less. DO more. Stop worrying about what if? Start worrying about what will happen if you don’t do anything at all.

14. Build something. I’m continuously amazed by people like @myfirstyoga and @marenkate and their quests to become self-made.  Maren’s diamond-cut philosophy underpinning her new business ventures is something I regularly check back on as a reminder to do what I’m doing.

15. Make it something worth building. You don’t have very much time to build something great. The big design problem? Designing your life. Figure out what’s most important, and start building it.

16. Do something that terrifies you. Do it every day. I don’t always do this, but I try to. Sometimes speaking up terrifies me. Sometimes writing terrifies me. Other times hurting someone’s feelings terrifies me. MeiMei Fox’s Huffington Post blog on living Life Out Loud highlights some of the fearless things people can do.

17. Dedicate time to being & becoming organized. If you can’t find what you wrote down, did you write it down at all? Did you even think it? How much time is wasted re-creating the same thing? How much time is lost to poor organization?

18. Always have something to point to. I believe in visual aids, beautiful design, and the art of information representation. Some of the most talented I know include Nancy Duarte, Edward Tufte and the ever-inspiring Lauren Manning (a person I shared a BRGR with for 45 minutes in New York City from the recommendation of the brilliant Merpie, and thus following commenced an email relationship and mutual adoration that continues to this day!).

19. Follow your energy. You’ll find some things unlimited.

20. Do one important thing before 11AM each day. I’m a morning person. I’ve learned not to have more than 3 major things on my task list each day. And of those 3, get at least one of them done before 11AM.

21. Everything adds up. This sounds like something J.D. Roth would say – oh yes, he’s said it! It’s the small bits, the subtle changes, the habit-formation that Leo talks about that makes a difference.

22. Write stuff down. Annotate your notes. I write everything down, or nearly everything. Shane Mac clued me into re-organizing these notes and annotating them for later documentation. Probably one of the smartest things on this entire list. Do both. It will change your life.

23. If you don’t know where you’ve come from, how will you know where you’re going? Look backwards regularly. In back to then, I stopped to write my past self a letter, and I like the advice I have to give. Who knows if I would have taken it – but in getting here, I acquired it.

24. Set time limits. Boundary your time. Things take time and time takes things.

25. Embrace whimsy. This is a quote directly from Kym Pham, a #WDS darling I was lucky to meet at last year’s Portland, OR conference, along with Mark Powers and George Palmer, incredible people making waves around the world.

26. Ask questions. Because. You should.

27. Do something worth talking about.
Nate Damm walked across the entire United States. None of the steps themselves was particularly significant, but the collection is stunning.  I’m waiting for his book to come out. Until then, @whereisnate, I can’t wait to see your next adventure.

28. Push GO sooner. Iterate. Test. Design. Fail. Re-calibrate. Repeat.

29. The more you learn, the less you know.

30. Do the fun things first. Tomorrow’s not a guarantee. And the fun will take you places. Fun is not lazy. Fun is not procrastinating. Fun is enjoying the act of being and doing.

31. You are what you feed yourself.

32. Sometimes you are a lot closer than you think.

33. Talk less. Some of the nicest, most thoughtful people aren’t the loudest or the brightest. They are darn hard-working and lovely to be around, even just sitting at the beach and enjoying the waves or strolling through Regent’s park with ice cream cones.

34. Do something useful each day. Even if you spend 14 hours in a sick bed, sleeping, 3 hours eating chicken soup, and another hour drinking tea, you can still say Thank You to the people who deserve it and I Love You to the folks you want to talk to. Every day, do something useful.

35. People are complicated. Forgive them. Let them be weird. If you haven’t learned it yet, I’m a bit weird myself. (It’s all okay).

36. Stop talking, start doing. Every day is a gift. Use it wisely.

37. Everybody has a story. Sometimes you don’t get to hear these stories until later, one-on-one, in small groups. I love having friends stop by (and friends of friends)

38. Tact and kindness are always appropriate. This one comes straight from a conversation with @elizashawvalk about convictions and the art of believing in something. She mused, “you know, I believe that tact and kindness are always, always appropriate,” and I concur readily and wholeheartedly. You can be well-mannered in all that you do.

39. Have a set of convictions. Have something to stand for. Know what you stand for, and what you think is okay and not okay.

40. Ask for feedback. It’s the quickest way to get better.

41. It’s okay to be a contradiction. We are inherently contradictions.

42. Say no more often. 

43. They can’t take what you learn away from you. Despite all of the setbacks, fears, doubts and insecurities I had when setting out on my big project’s launch last November, including my stumbling in the middle, my notes on the process, and my sheer exhaustion during May, I found that persevering and doubting challenge every great intention. Despite all the naysayers in my mind, this was one of the biggest words of encouragement: No matter how big you fail, how far you fall, or how high you dream, they can’t take what you learn away from you. My two lists from launching my publishing venture on landscape urbanism? Part one and part two have 50-odd things I gained along the way. These, I get to keep.

44. Surround yourself with good people. I could name a million smart people around me that have offered guidance, and there’s almost too many to name them all!  I had the fortune of meeting a brilliant relationship strategist and all-round-rocketeer, Jeff Riddle, earlier this year. Through many questions and queries, doodles and sketches, I’ve gained brilliance like this favorite, “Humility and confidence,” learned how to pivot like a champion; learned when to sit an listen, how to trust my gut, and how to brave it all and put my fears out there for honest feedback. And every bit of it was golden.

45. Ask WHY as much as possible. You might consider reading Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. Or hanging out with a five year old for several consecutive hours. You’ll whittle away a lot of fluff by figuring out the why early and often.

46. Try new things. Embed yourself in new experiences. A few sites remind me of this regularly – @joelrunyon‘s and his tireless challenge to do new adventures on his blog of impossible things; @heyamberrae and her feature stories on revolution.is, @tylertervooren’s advanced riskology, or @chrisguillebeau’s art of non conformity (and the book review from earlier, as well as the recap’s onetwo, and three from the #WDS conference earlier this year in Portland, Oregon).

47. Pay attention to how you feel. You are a mess of complicated neurons and brain cells, a collection of dendritic firings. Pay attention to them occasionally; sometimes they are talking to you.

48. Say No to everything one day each week. Then, follow the rabbit hole! Go ask Alice, yeah? Some days I set aside explicitly for saying No to everything and anything I can, only allowing myself to do those few things that I truly enjoy and feel called to do. I like to call it ‘following the rabbit hole,’ – a phrase that reminds me to go on adventures and stay playful.

49. Follow your bliss. It will take you fun places.

50. Do one thing at a time. You can do a lot of things, but it’s darn difficult to do them all at exactly the same time.

51. Stop making excuses. I love the gumption and energy that come from people who ask you tough questions. Who challenge you to be better, not routine. To be extraordinary, not regular. Find people who make you better, who call your bullshit when it’s bullshit, and are cheering you on from the sidelines.

52. Stop chasing ordinary. You’ll get the same results from the same inputs. Change it up. Dare to be different. Be phenomenal. Find your extraordinary.

I can’t even begin to list the extraordinary that’s been this year. I feel grateful, lucky and blessed. As for next year? I’m writing myself a list and a vision plan. I have high hopes and dreams, and I’ll check back in on my letter to myself every few weeks to see if I’m making progress. And as for my birthday? It was excellent, caught somewhere along the coast of California as I meander through conferences in Northern and Southern California. I spent the day with my sister, friends, and escaped for a few hours to relax poolside and loved every minute of it. Thanks for all the well-wishes!

Leave a note in the comments about YOUR life rules and what you believe about how to live. 


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66 Responses to 2011 review: 28 in fifty-two notes: a year’s worth of writing, lessons, and people

  1. Love. So much of this was some of the same things I found myself finally embracing at the end of 27 and now all of 28. Life is really what you make it, so why not do what you want. I hope others will be inspired by this to live life on their own terms.

    • Sarah says:

      Spencer – I’m so glad you liked it. The end of your 20’s seems so full of exploration, opportunity and life. I don’t always follow my own advice — hence the hundreds of notes and reminders to myself to try to live up to what I want to be.

  2. Ronald says:

    Happy Birthday!
    Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.
    May you live long & prosperous.

  3. I love it, Sarah. Birthdays always put me in a reflective mood as well (see here: http://www.lifewithoutpants.com/life/26/) – Like you, and like Maren, my philosophy is centered around one simple concept. Freedom. Life isn’t worth living if you can’t feel free – in control. It’s why you’ll never see me backing fate and always see me in support of free will.

    But that aside, life has been grand for the first 26 years of my life. And it sounds like 28 years have served you well. Sure their have been dark periods, challenges, obstacles, times I’ve wanted to say, “I quit” and times I HAVE said “I can’t do this to myself”. But it’s overcoming those challenges, embracing that it isn’t going to be easy – and continuing to be persistent and driven toward bigger, better, and brighter things that define you.

    Cheers to both of our birthdays! Here’s to many, many more great years ahead!

    • Sarah says:

      ABSOLUTELY. Freedom ain’t free, it’s earned (although many of us are fortunate to have a lot of luck in the birth department) – and we work hard to be able to make the decisions we do. I totally agree, hundred percent. Keep working, keep exploring, keep learning!

  4. Srinivas says:

    I was wondering what you were going to do with all those notes. Did those pics come from that notebook? If only I had your handwriting, then I could use those pics for my blog posts. On a more serious note, this is brilliant. It’s hands down my favorite thing you’ve written. Inspires and entertains. I had many of the same ideas you had about what you thought you should have done by now. But what i told Matt Chevy this morning was that there’s no timeline for significant success. This is one of those post I’ll come back to every time I need a dose of inspiration.

    • Sarah says:

      Srini – thanks a million for ALL of your continued support so far – you are amazing. I’m so grateful that you’re around!! And I’m glad you liked this collection of notes. I’m thinking about putting it together into a short PDF (easy to do) of little notes for the year. (Next week: this week is already full, eh?) See you at BlogWorld!!

  5. Crysta says:

    These are fantastic food for thought. Thanks for sharing.

  6. connie says:

    Everything I NEEDED to remind myself~
    Sometimes in life you need to re-evaluate, stop at the Red light…..re-group~re-fresh….and then hit the ground Running~ Your message has arrived~ Thank You!!

    • Sarah says:

      Absolutely. I am the one who needs these reminders constantly — always — it’s so great to check in and say, “wait a second, is this what I really want to do??” Thanks so much for coming over to the blog and stopping by. I’m so glad to have you here!

  7. Holly Mac says:

    I have to let you know that I’ve bookmarked this on my home screen on my iPhone for quick reference. THANK YOU and I love it to pieces. You inspire me.

    • Sarah says:

      Holly Mac!!! I can’t wait to meet you in person – I feel like I know you already :) :) :) Thanks for stopping by and taking a look at my scribblings’ — every now and again they seem to add up to something useful. Maybe next up, I’ll write a book. Who knows. :) Hope you are doing well!

  8. Jenny Blake says:

    HAPPY BELATED BIRTHDAY, SARAH!!!! This list (and the accompanying notes) is AMAZING — I’m telling you — this is your next book project!!! It’s been so fun following along with *your* journey this past year — love that blogging has re-connected us, and looking forward to many more conferences, terrace yogas and chats in the years to come :)

    Cupcakes cheers!!

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks JBE!! I hope it is my next book project! I’m trying to get it all done and ship it but man have I got a hundred and two piles on my desks at the moment! Whoooooaaaa Nelly! :-D LOVED seeing you these past weeks, happy cupcakes and can’t wait until you dominate NYC with JBE!!!

  9. Happy (be-lated) Birthday Sarah!

    Seriously love your notes – but of course, you know that already. Dig this list too. Particularly this one: “Do one important thing before 11AM each day.” I’ve been doing this one every day. Seems simple, but well, it is and it isn’t. For me, it helps build momentum. That sense of accomplishment you get from inching closer towards your goals sorta thing.

    Anyway, love this entire list! Hope you had an awesome b-day!

    • Sarah says:

      THANKS RICARDO!!! Ribeeeeeeezie! I’m so glad I got to finally meet you in person – wahooooo! I feel like the stars were aligned. :) Hope you’re having an AWESOME week and let’s hang out again soon!

  10. DrDeadline says:

    I’ll be 65 next March. This has been my voyage.

    • Sarah says:

      Happy (early) birthday!!! Have an AWESOME 65th and enjoy the journey, the voyage, and the days – they are worth it. Every penny.

  11. Liv says:

    Hi Sarah,
    Just found your site through @K8iedid’s tweet. This is such an incredible post and will likely take hours for me to really go through. Looking forward to it and exploring your blog as well. Happy Belated!

    • Sarah says:

      Liv, thanks for stopping by – SO glad to have you here and meet you! Enjoy and let me know which one ends up being your favorite :)

  12. […] Peck shared 52 lessons she wrote down in the year before turning 28, and I can’t get a few of those out of my […]

  13. […] on theme with handwritten notes, Sarah Peck put together an incredible and wise 28 in fifty-two notes: a year’s worth of writing, lessons and people. She also drew this awesome picture for me earlier this […]

  14. […] what you have to realize is that anybody who has done something extraordinary made the decision to stop chasing ordinary, and just started taking one step forward at a time. Most people have no idea how they’re going […]

  15. Happy (very) Belated Birthday Sarah! LOVE this post…. still working on my own rules… I’ve never been good at following them;)

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks Monica! I’m so glad you stopped by – so much fun to “meet” you online and chat via twitter!! Can’t wait until our lives cross paths and I get to meet you in person! (And yes – I’m terrible at following rules, sometimes. Isn’t one of them “rules are meant to be broken!?” — if it’s not, it should be!!)

  16. Baker says:

    Very thorough list here! Def. enjoyed it.

  17. Hey Sarah! Happy birthday – you should have mentioned that so I could give you a birthday hug in person. ;)

    I love this post and all the notebook tips. I’m a notebook-a-holic, and you take this to a great new level. And the wisdom within those pages is spot on, baby!

    • Sarah says:

      Nathalie!! So wonderful to meet you at #BWELA and I hope we get to reconnect again soon. I love what you have been doing and I just checked out your videos – HILARIOUS! Crack me up, “Get techy with it!” Please do more of these videos – they are awesome!

  18. […] It Starts With Making Things Happen: 28 in fifty-two notes: a year’s worth of writing, lessons, and people […]

  19. Linda says:

    I love this. Did you read Donald Miller? The Embrace Whimsy might have clued me in. Thank you for sharing!

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Linda – thanks for stopping by!! I haven’t read Donald Miller yet, but I think I must now that so many people have recommended him to me — thanks for the tip!

  20. Linda says:

    Ah! So I didn’t finish reading and got to “Embrace Whimsy” in bullet form. WHAT A SMALL WORLD. I emailed this post after reading the intro to KYM PHAM herself and said “hey, someone read Donald Miller!”

    What a small fucking world. :) She is my solemate (deliberate misspelling.)

    • Sarah says:

      AHHH I didn’t read this one (C’mon Sarah, read down the page!) — and YES, Kym Pham is awesome!!! :) She’s amazing — you’ll have to explain SOLEMATE to me, though!

  21. Caroline says:

    As someone who is NOT a morning person (but who aspires to be more of one…) I’m gonna try
    “Do one important thing before 11AM each day” …I think that maybe if I can figure out what I am good at in the morning I’ll be more morningy :)…and if it works…I’ll blog about it.

    Loved this post! (Loads of stuff to get back to!)
    Was 2010 late to join Twitter? Oh…I just joined a few months ago, lol

    • Sarah says:

      Hi Caroline! Thanks so much for stopping by — yes, I LOVE that rule — it works wonders; otherwise I get so caught up in tasks and more anxious that I don’t focus good energy on tackling one big thing each day. Let me know how it turns out (and if you blog about it, send me the link!) — Can’t wait to hear more. :)

  22. […] She’s brilliant, incredibly hard working, a ridiculous athlete and all-around ray of light. Show her some love at her blog. […]

  23. Alexia says:

    Ooof, you inspiring lady, love love love.
    My scribbled lessons from this year aren’t quite as neatly boxed together as this, but are in the front of my notebook on one page. My biggest lesson: ‘Take Responsibility’. It’s helped me to just get on with things….
    I love your: ‘1 x thing before 11am’ – definitely going to incorporate that in! I’ll be back for more!!

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks thanks! Love back at you!! These little notes are great ways to keep me focused and on track, and not overwhelmed. I find that small soundbites are easy to remember and follow (I suppose I like rules and systems!). The 11AM one is one of my favorites, too. It’s a nice way to give yourself a little cheer for doing well in the middle of the day, when otherwise we might just be criticizing ourselves for not having done enough yet. (Who has voices in their head? Oh! Me! I do!) — Great to catch you here!

  24. […] Good advice about life. […]

  25. […] as a storyteller who communicates ideas through words, pictures, and other visual media. Her blog, It Starts With, started as a column about making the transition to the professional world and finding out […]

  26. […] as a storyteller who communicates ideas through words, pictures, and other visual media. Her blog, It Starts With, started as a column about making the transition to the professional world and finding out […]

  27. Ravi says:

    Hi Sarah, Thought provoking notes. Inspiration for everyone, particularly someone like me who is trying to getting into the blogging world. I have to mention that I got here from Darren@problogger.net.
    Keep up the good work.

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks so much for coming here, Ravi! It takes time and is a bit quiet in the beginning of the blogging world, but after a year or two, I was so surprised by how much I had grown and changed – just from the simple act of adopting a regular writing practice. One of my absolute favorite things to do. I hope you have fun with yours and keep me posted on the progress!!

  28. Sinea Pies says:

    Sarah, I found you featured in Darren’s post today and just had to look you up! Your site is wonderful and I will be spending some time on it for sure. Hoping to get some nuggets for the College & Careers class that I teach to high school students….and for some of my own writing as well (properly sited, of course). Happy New Year! Sinea from Ducks ‘n a Row.

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks so much, Sinea! It’s great to have you here and connect with you through a few platforms. I often find my site leaves a lot to be desired (need … to … re-design!) but I do love being able to write and explore ideas and share with so many smart people. It’s been such an inspiration for me.

  29. […] as a storyteller who communicates ideas through words, pictures, and other visual media. Her blog, It Starts With, started as a column about making the transition to the professional world and finding out […]

  30. […] as a storyteller who communicates ideas through words, pictures, and other visual media. Her blog, It Starts With, started as a column about making the transition to the professional world and finding out […]

  31. […] as a storyteller who communicates ideas through words, pictures, and other visual media. Her blog, It Starts With, started as a column about making the transition to the professional world and finding out […]

  32. Pattu says:


    What a list. I need to refer to this many times before the list becomes a habit.
    Happy New Year.

    • Sarah says:

      Thanks, Pattu! So glad you’re here! I have these written in little notes that I refer to often, and I have to check back in a lot to make sure I’m still on track for what I want to be doing. :) Best of luck to you! Happy New Years!

  33. […] as a storyteller who communicates ideas through words, pictures, and other visual media. Her blog, It Starts With, started as a column about making the transition to the professional world and finding out […]

  34. […] as a storyteller who communicates ideas through words, pictures, and other visual media. Her blog, It Starts With, started as a column about making the transition to the professional world and finding out […]

  35. […] as a storyteller who communicates ideas through words, pictures, and other visual media. Her blog, It Starts With, started as a column about making the transition to the professional world and finding out […]

  36. […] 28 in fifty-two notes […]

  37. soapie says:

    found your site through my friend kympham. this is an awesome set of lessons and life wisdom. especially love the last one. =)

    • Sarah says:

      YAYY! I’m so glad you stopped by. I love Kym – she is such an inspiration to me. And the last one is one of my favorites! :)

  38. […] what I was doing when the ominous cloud of Lost Time hit me. Was I reading? Was I writing in my new grid-lined notebook? Was I eating a delicious but completely not-good-for-you Oreo cookie brownie? Was I sleeping? Was […]

  39. […] as a storyteller who communicates ideas through words, pictures, and other visual media. Her blog, It Starts With, started as a column about making the transition to the professional world and finding out […]

  40. Eynael says:

    I have all of them, plus few others… plus one : do not follow rules =)

  41. Wow. This is gold Sarah. Printing this out and pinning it on my wall!

  42. […] Good advice about life. […]

  43. Wow, LOVE this!!! Very inspiring and interesting. Thanks! :)

  44. […] 28-in 52 notes: A Year’s Worth of Learning, Lessons […]