16 Life Lessons I’ve Learned After 3 Years in the Real World

Dominic Vaiana
3 min readMay 16, 2021


I have a habit of writing down ideas and advice I wish I’d known a long time ago (you can check out my lists from 2019 and 2020). Some of them come from conversations with smart people, many come from books, and I’ve learned a few the hard way. I’ll spare the verbose introduction about the “silver lining of the pandemic” and get straight to the good stuff:

1. Goals are overrated. Instead, focus on a system of small, daily improvements. Then, as Bill Walsh said, “The score takes care of itself.”

2. Idolizing a politician is like believing a stripper who says they love you.

3. “It’s difficult to get someone to understand the truth when their salary depends upon them not understanding it.”

4. Most people don’t do well in positions of power. We’re very certain how we would handle a situation better than whoever is in charge, when in fact we would react the same way, or worse. Accepting this bias makes you much less likely to judge others’ actions.

5. Introductions (Hey John, meet Sam) are infinitely more valuable than referrals (Tell John I sent you.) Deals are built on the former, not the latter.

6. Wisdom rarely wears a suit.

7. Proactively plan how you’ll handle conflict — in relationships, at work, at home. This will save you from making embarrassing knee-jerk reactions when people inevitably piss you off.

8. Most success stories are just post hoc constructions of luck and random events organized into a catchy 200-word bio. Or, explained visually:

9. Taking investing advice from someone who lives in their parents’ house (“Buy Tesla/Dogecoin/GameStop!”) is like taking fitness advice from a guy gorging on donuts.

10. Shame is the least efficient way to change someone’s behavior; having skin in the game is the most effective. (For more on this, read about why you should blackmail yourself.)

11. There are no geographical solutions to psychological problems.

12. Happiness often hinges on your ability to enjoy luxuries without letting them become necessities.

13. If your organization values people who signal that work is being done instead of actually doing the work, quit immediately.

14. Your teachers told you to learn, then start. High achievers start, then learn.

15. Most successful people aren’t public figures (that is, they aren’t posting pictures on private jets in Tulum.) There’s a reason for that.

16. Good ideas come from conversations. Great ideas come from shutting up and listening.



Dominic Vaiana

Author, marketer, ghostwriter. Find me here 👉 DominicV.net