Wishing You a Far Better 2021!


I wanted to give you all a meaningful holiday gift. This is difficult during normal times, and even more difficult during the pandemic.

I’ve always admired people who can give holiday gifts that are truly unique. Designers do it best. Earlier this year, I wrote about Thomas Heatherwick’s Christmas gifts. From 1994 to 2010, Heatherwick, creator of New York’s Vessel, created original, unique, and surprising Christmas cards. There was even a museum exhibit of these cards.

Another wonderful gift was on the TV show Sports Night, when Aaron Sorkin put his Christmas gift in the show. During the Christmas episode of 1998, Sorkin had the fictional sportscasters thank the real backstage cast as part of the episode. So when the cast thanks Maureen Gates and Joseph Rivetto, these are real people.

But alas, I’m not a designer or a TV creator. I’m a writer. So this note is my holiday gift to you.


I had more time than normal this year to do some writing. This letter is my “best of” for the year, but there’s a lot more at my website schlaff.com. The website also has a new introduction and a list of my favorite articles. You can subscribe to my blog to stay updated during the year.

So why do I blog? I write for me and I write for you.

I write for me. As I wrote in Why I Write, it’s a way of documenting my life and thoughts. It helps me clarify what I think and who I want to be. It also shows me how I change over time and how I stay the same. Hopefully, it’s a story about becoming a better thinker and a better person.

I also write for all of you. I like to blog to share my thoughts with you and stay in touch. As I said in my Toastmasters Speech, Why I Blog, I used to tell these long rambling stories, which would bore my friends. Now that I can tweak them into pithy blog posts, my friends send me reviews like “Your blog is awesome. It’s like what Gwyneth Paltrow’s ‘Goop’ but much better,” and “Thank you for your post Six Amazonian Secrets You Can Use! I’ve shared it with everyone at work.”


Here are some of my favorite pieces this year about Amazon and working:

My favorite blog posts about discovery and art:

  • The Joy of the Hunt. I love hunting for interesting things, from hidden castles toYale’s secret societies.
  • Taking the Red Pill of Art. Thinking like an artist is hard. Here’s my journey (so far) as an artist.
  • The Art of the Book in the Digital Age. I picked up a book at the New York Public Library with a big purple stamp that read, “The Author of This Book Committed Suicide.” This led to quite an interesting adventure.

I wrote about digital media this year, writing the entire Midas Exchange Blog. My favorite was The Best Social Media Isn’t Just About Social Platforms.


I’ve always wanted to get better at public speaking. This year I had my chance! I joined Toastmasters and have been the VP of education for DE Squared Toastmasters. As Toastmasters is an organization about making speeches, you should probably watch my recruiting speech rather than read this section. I’ve learned the difference between reading a speech vs. connecting with an audience. It’s quite a bit of fun. We’re on Zoom these days, so shoot me an email or join our meetup group if you’re interested in joining our monthly meetings. We meet on the third Monday of each month.

Here are some of my favorite speeches (with more here):


At this point in the letter, I normally talk about happiness, but last year was brutal. No matter who I talk with, I’m constantly reminded of the opening line of Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I wrote about this in Making the Most of This Ugly Year. While sulking through this dispiriting mess of a year, I picked up Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl, who survived Aushwitz, believed that we can live a meaningful life in three ways: through work, love/caring for others, and courage in difficult times. It’s the third one that we often forget and overlook. In these difficult times, it’s worth taking a step back and realizing that there’s something noble in overcoming these challenges. Or as Dr. Suess said, “When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.” Instead of framing this year as “This sucks” we can frame it as “This sucks, but I’ve been working hard to overcome it, and I should feel good about that.” Give it a try!

I’ve written a bit about happiness this year:

I also have some blog posts on friendship:

  • Thank You for Being a Friend. Friendship is about being there for other people. Anyone can celebrate with you when it’s convenient. A true friend stands by you when things are tough.
  • Global Pandemic and Global Friendship. These days, contacting friends down the street is as difficult as contacting friends in Asia. Early in the pandemic, I caught up with some of my friends around the world to compare notes.
  • Guest Post: Blake Schlaff on Fortnite Friendships. This is Blake’s insider account of the social world inside of Fortnite. Blake and his friends give each other birthday gifts and he’s even thrown a party.

I’ve also got a lot of happiness and inspiration links on my website. Here are some of my favorites:


The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) but “That’s funny…” — Isaac Asimov

The best humor goes beyond amusement. It can help people see the world from a new point of view and help people change the way they think. The humorist is a gadfly in the best sense of the word, one who annoys the powerful but provokes positive action. Even when kings wielded absolute power, they had the licensed fool or court jester to provide them with the truth in a humorous way. Below I have some humorous things that make you think and some things that are just funny.


This has been a year when I’ve found myself saying things in 2020 that wouldn’t have made any sense in 2019 (similar to this Saturday Night Live skit) like:

  • “Kids, remember to walk in the middle of the street—not on the sidewalks. There are people on the sidewalks.”
  • “I don’t think they’ll let you in the bank if you’re not wearing your mask.”
  • “Well, I guess I don’t need pants for this conference call.”
  • “Please mute yourself during the Zoom Bat Mitzvah.”

And here’s some so my favorite COVID-19 humor links for the year:


  • Quote of the Year: All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. — The opening line to Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • Today I worked from home, ran 10 miles, homeschooled my kids, cleaned the house, made a delicious dinner, and got my kids to bed early. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you lie. — Mommy Owl on Twitter
  • Look, I fully support banning travel from Europe to prevent the spread of infectious disease. I just think it’s 528 years too late. — Rebecca Nagle, Cherokee Writer
  • We don’t like to watch the Price is Right. The beginning is great when they guess the prices, play the games and spin the wheel. But we don’t like the end where Andrew Cuomo talks about the Coronavirus. — My Kids
  • Ouch. You picked a bad year to switch jobs. Switching jobs these days is like playing musical chairs when the music stops. — My friend Jason
  • Whoever did the PR in the 90s about cutting open plastic six-pack rings so they don’t choke animals did an amazing job. They should find that person and put them in charge of the wear a mask campaign. — Rachel Syme


This year, instead of just having a blog, I also created a library section on my website. I wanted a place to put all of my awesome stuff. Growing up, I always wanted to have a great library in my house. I remembered the excitement when I learned that I could buy the entire collection of The New Yorker in bound volumes and put them on a shelf. I’d imagined that I would collect great encyclopedias from the past to peruse whenever I pleased. They would live in mahogany bookcases that looked like they’d belonged to JP Morgan. Then I realized that a New York City apartment doesn’t have space for a physical library. So I did the next best thing. I created a virtual library that includes lots of the things I enjoy, like my favorite books, words, and tools.

I’ve broken the library into a number of sections. For me, the sections aren’t hard lines but themes to peruse. Rather than looking at them as Dewey Decimal numbers, think of them as different rooms and exhibitions as you move through the library.



  • Tips and Tricks. This is my list of useful life hacks that I’ve learned over the years filled with things to start doing, things to stop doing, and “How To” items.
    • Start Asking People “What Are You Passionate About?” In New York, everyone likes to ask “What do you do for a living?” I’ve found that asking “What are you passionate about?” is better. In fact, Amazon puts this question on the internal phone directory for everyone to share.
    • Stop Losing Your Laptop at the Airport. Put your business card and cell phone number on your laptop to avoid losing it at the airport. Here’s how it worked for me more than once.
    • How To Choose a Better Book or Movie. This one is a tip from my friend Seth. If you’re going to watch the movie “From the People Who Brought You Movie A” you should probably go see Movie A. It’s going to be at least as good as the new movie.
  • “Laws” Named After People. I love laws (really lessons) that are named after people. Some are are useful, others are just fun. My favorite “law” named after a person is Stigler’s law of Eponymy which states that no scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer. Wrap your mind around that one!
  • Lessons from My Grandparents. My grandparents taught me so many lessons. This is my homage to them.



Thanks for making it through all of this! As I sign off from this email, I wanted to leave you with one of my cards. I wrote about the story behind these cards, but the message stands by itself. Thanks for being my friend. You’re Awesome. Let’s Talk.

Thank you all for your friendship and support this tough year. As I look at JibberJobber (my job search CRM), I see over 100 people that helped me on this journey. Now it’s my turn. As I started thanking people, one very generous and instrumental mentor said, “It’s my pleasure, now it’s time for you to pay it forward.” So tell me what I can do to help you.


P.S. If you’d like to read more of my writing check out schlaff.com. If you want to get more articles by email you can subscribe here to get 1-3 emails a month. If you want to unsubscribe from this annual letter you can do it here.