10 Lessons I Learned in 2011

2011 was a tough year. Tough for the world, tough for the American people, tough on many of my friends and family. And tough for me, personally.

I see a lot of top 10 lists this time of year. Top ten albums, top 10 movies, top 10...anything really. So I wanted to do a little top 10 of my own. I wanted to do something honest, and real looking back at a difficult year.

Some of these are from my personal life. Some are cultural events or happenings. All offer a glimmer of hope that shone through from a arduous year, and taught me something.

#10 - Reflection is Important

The first time I heard this song I truly thought my heart was going to stop working. It didn't. Which I'm glad for.

#9 - Sometimes Nuance Can be Triumphant


I don't watch sports. I have never seen a women's soccer game in my life. I am American, Yuko is Japanese. We decided to watch the Women's World Cup finals between the USA and Japan one Sunday morning.

It was stunning. 11 five foot Japanese women played chess against a stick of dynamite for 2 hours. Clear through the penalty kicks that decided the victor, neither team was willing to abandon their lifetime of cultural training.

#8 - Direct Communication Can be Helpful

A protester in Cairo, Egypt comforts an obviously distraught government soldier. I find this particular predicament to be extremely important and fragile at the same time. We live in a strange time when fighting for ones country is not as simple as patriotism. This image manages to show that blurry (possible nonexistent) line in a perfectly clear way.




#7 - Less Can Indeed be More

rams moma

The SF MOMA held a retrospective of legendary Braun designer Dieter Rams entitled "Less and More". His simple and intuitive designs have shaped the way we live and how we interact with everyday objects such as stereos and lighters through to computers and smart phones.

#6 - There is More to Life than Being Right


#5 - Hard Work is Rewarding

This was without a doubt my favorite movie of the year. It made me smile. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It made me think.

We are surrounded my products, I don't necessarily mean consumer products, but rather finished products. This film is a rare look at a process, an artist at work, a peek behind an incredibly honest and pure curtain.

#4 - Embrace a Sense of Community

smith brand bow ties

This photo was shot the morning after rioting in London, England on August 8th. A community gathers, eager to clean up the mess.

#3 - Celebrate Awesome Things

One of the final sections of the Japanese bullet train, linking the southern island of Kyushu was finished this spring, opening one day after the Tohoku earthquake. The last town on the new line is one very dear to my heart.

I spent several wonderful years there, met some of my greatest friends and my Gal Yuko. This TV commercial shows the inaugural trip through the countryside heading north.

#2 - Appreciate the Things You Have

29 year old Sarah Churman hearing her own voice for the first time after receiving a hearing implant. The joy brought by the perfect intersection of technology and humanity in this 91 seconds make me as happy as can be.

#1 - Helping Other People is Nice

I saw many images of the Japanese earthquake. Some made me sad, some made me smile, every single one reminded me how special and amazing the Japanese people are.

Of all the images I saw, this single image stuck with me like none of the others.

We live in a world with more technology than we know what to do with. Yet when it comes down to it, picking someone up and putting them on your back may still be the best answer.

The look on the soldiers face is one of determination, and a sense of duty. Duty to his country, duty to the previous generation.

The elderly man's face is one of appreciation, gratitude and trust. The vast span of human emotion displayed on these two faces are enough for me to think about for the next year.

If you have any thoughts, comments or concerns, please let me know. I was a bit aprehensive about posting this personal list, but would love any discussion, engagement, or suggestions on other lessons I may not have learned this year, but should have.