Earl Lee


2021 Reflection


Happy new year, and I hope your 2022 is filled with growth and success. Last year, I didn’t spend time to properly reflect and write about the previous year and set goals for the next one—a habit I’ve otherwise kept up since college. This year, I did. Here are 2 of my key learnings from the past year and goals for the next:

Team performance at the highest levels takes not only physical and mental effort but emotional effort.

I’ve always tried to hone my work ethic and discipline. Winning, I thought, was primarily about working hard and smart.

This may be largely true for individualistic pursuits but for team efforts, it only paints a part of the picture.

What’s missing is the emotional effort to succeed as a team. I don’t mean building team camaraderie. It’s easy to be supportive of and friendly to your teammates.

It’s hard to constantly push those around you to the edge and demand excellence. Driving requires setting uncomfortable expectations, focusing on the flaws despite success, disagreement in search of truth, letting teammates go, and weathering rejections from promising candidates. These inherently require emotional energy.

This mentality permeated many successful teams I learned about through books and documentaries—Amazon, Uber, Apple, Netflix, Chicago Bulls, etc.

Sometimes, the level of drive pushes teams over the edge—people burn out, and culture becomes toxic. But when done well, the team transcends individuals, and individuals experience a wildly rewarding journey that most never taste.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Only perfect practice makes it.”

This Vince Lombardi quote succinctly encapsulates a mindset I want embody. Putting in the work itself doesn’t guarantee progress. Deliberate work does. When you do something repetitive, your brain reinforces neural pathways such that the activity becomes easier next time. With enough repetition, it becomes effortless and automatic.

That’s dangerous. Once behavior becomes automatic, the improvements peter out. You’re no longer consciously thinking and improving. You get stuck in your ways.

I saw this in weightlifting. When I initially learned the snatch and clean & jerk, it required immense mental effort because the movements are so technical.

After my form became passable, I stopped focusing on the movement itself. I mindlessly started increasing training volume and adding more weight. I forgot to execute each lift consciously.

The focus became getting the reps done instead of executing each rep as an opportunity to improve technique. I got lazy.

In the Netflix documentary “The Last Dance,” one of Michael Jordan’s teammates noted that he approached every game like it was his last and knew there was always someone in the crowd who was about to watch him play for their first time.

I’m trying to apply this mentality as a founder. How can I approach each situation slightly differently than the last? What is the purpose of what I’m about to do? Is there a better way to accomplish the end goal today than I have done in the past? How can I use each staff meeting as an opportunity to drive and energize the team?

This is about mental effort. It’s about avoiding falling into the trap of simply going through the motions.

Books I read in 2021

Recommendations followed by an asterisk.*


  • No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention, Reed Hastings (2020)*
  • Super Pumped, Mike Isaac (2019)*
  • Documentary: The Last Dance (2020)
  • Black Edge, Sheelah Kolhatkar (2017)
  • Amazon Unbound, Brad Stone (2021)
  • Play Nice But Win, Michael Dell (2021)


  • Your Brain at Work, David Rock (2009)*
  • Deep Work, Cal Newport (2016)


  • The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker (2006)*
  • An Elegant Puzzle, Will Larson (2019)
  • The Five Temptations of a CEO, Patrick Lencioni (1998)
  • Who, Geoff Smart & Randy Street (2008)
  • The Making of a Manager, Julie Zhuo (2019)
  • Play Bigger, Al Ramadan et al. (2016)
  • Shape Up, Ryan Singer (2019)
  • The Manager’s Path, Camille Fournier (2017)
  • Inspired, Marty Cagan (2017)


  • The Second Mountain, David Brooks (2019)