Alright, so I turned 24 and I thought I’ll do something special this time. I thought I’ll write about what I’ve learned so far on my brief time on this planet.
Originally, I wanted it to be 24 lessons. But when I started writing, 24 turned into 35, which turned into 48, which turned into 62. Way too many…
So I went through the whole list again, and sure enough, I started to recognize patterns. I realized that some lessons were like branches of a bigger, unifying principle. Eventually, after countless revisions, I ended up with these 30 big ideas.
I hope you’ll find them resourceful on your own journey. Above all, I hope you’ll find them sincere.
I want you to know that I share these lessons not from a place of arrogance, but from a place of love and humility. I’m no one special. I don’t have it all figured out. And I’m a constant work in progress who has a lot more to learn.
So without further ado, here are 30 things I learned thus far.
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1. Put yourself together before you try to put the world together.
As the old adage goes, start with yourself and the log in your own eye before you judge the speck in your neighbor’s eye.
Blaming others for your problems is a complete waste of time. When you do that, you don’t learn anything and you don’t grow.
Plus, the world around you is really not the problem. YOU are. You can’t change other people. But here’s what you can do: you can change yourself. Jacob M. Braude put it best:
“Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others.”
And as Leo Tolstoy would add, "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."
Replace blame with personal responsibility. Take full responsibility for your life, for everything you do, and for everything that happens to you. Refuse to blame other people for your problems.
Refuse to criticize others’ flaws and start fixing your own. Stop complaining about things that you’re not happy about. You’re not a victim of your circumstances. If there’s something in your life that you don’t like, it’s up to you to change it.
Always go back to yourself because when you put yourself together, the world just falls into place.
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2. Stop trying to find your passion.
If you can’t figure out what you should do in life, then guess. You don’t have to get it right and it doesn’t have to be perfect because chances are… it won’t. It’s better to pick something, rather than nothing.
Pick something that energizes you. Pick something that you can see yourself concentrating on. Then get really good at it. The better you become at something, the more passionate you’ll become. Success causes passion more than passion causes success.
The billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban put it best when he wrote, "Let me make this as clear as possible:
1. When you work hard at something you become good at it.
2. When you become good at doing something, you will enjoy it more.
3. When you enjoy doing something, there is a very good chance you will become passionate or more passionate about it.
4. When you are good at something, passionate and work even harder to excel and be the best at it, good things happen."
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3. Choose how you are willing to suffer, because that’s the hard question that matters.
Someone once said that if you want success, figure out the price, then pay it.
Be brutally honest with yourself: You might be in love with the end result. You might enjoy seeing yourself at the finish line. You might fantasize about the reward, the victory, the power, and the fame. But are you in love with the process? Are you excited about the amount of suffering you need to go through to get there?
Just like the phoenix who bursts into flames only to be reborn again, the question is not whether you want to be reborn. The real question is, do you want to burst into flames?
Where there’s pain there’s challenge. Where there’s challenge there’s growth. A life without pain and suffering is a life without growth. What’s your choice? Are you willing to pay the price?
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4. Focus on systems, not goals.
Set yourself a goal, but don’t focus on the goal. Focus on the process of getting to the goal.
Losing twenty pounds is a goal. Eating right, exercising regularly and resting is a process. A goal is a target that you set out to achieve sometime in the future. A process is a set of actions and disciplines you follow on a regular basis to increase the odds of success in the long term. As Scott Adams put it:
“If you do something every day, it’s a system. If you’re waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it’s a goal.”
Side note: Contrary to popular belief, talking about what you’re going to do doesn’t make it more likely that you’ll actually do it. Keep your plans to yourself. Work in silence and let your results speak for themselves.
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5. Realize that some things are within your control, and some things are not.
Remember the famous “serenity prayer”: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”
Here's the thing:
We can’t control the outside circumstances in our life. We can’t control the economy, we can't control other people's behavior, we can’t control the weather, we can’t control our future, or change the past; we can’t control our upbringing, our genetics, our life or our death.
Yes, we can influence them, but we cannot control them perfectly because they're outside of our control, and focusing on these things will only end in disappointment, anger, and frustration.
We can even say that much of our unhappiness is caused by thinking that we can control things that, in fact, we can’t.
So what can we control? The only things that are within our control are the choices we make in response to the events in our life.
Therefore, it’s not what happens that determines how your life works out, because what happens is the same for everybody. It’s how you choose to respond to what happens that matters.
Put another way, while you may not have any control over the cards you’re dealt, you do have control over how you play those cards.
Ultimately, your life today is a result of the choices you've made up until this point. Once you realize that, you can say, "I choose otherwise."
Life is a choice and every single waking moment offers you the opportunity to choose otherwise. Choose consciously and choose wisely because your life depends on it.
As C. S. Lewis said:
“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
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6. Focus on getting 1% better every day.
Start really small. Notice the things in your life that are not the way you want them to be and see if you can improve them. Start with incremental improvements, keep doing that and get better and better at that.
Have patience. Don’t look for the big, radical improvement in a short amount of time. There are no secrets or magic bullets that will suddenly make things better. Seek the small improvements one day at a time that will gradually lead to the change you want.
Also, don’t compare yourself to other people. The only person you should compare yourself to is the person you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today. Don’t try to be better than someone else, but always try to be the best you can be.
Self-improvement is not a destination. It’s a journey. Give up on the idea that you’ll someday “arrive.” You’ll never arrive. Because the journey never ends.
“Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Discharge your duties faithfully and well. Step by step you get ahead, but not necessarily in fast spurts. But you build discipline by preparing for fast spurts… Slug it out one inch at a time, day by day. At the end of the day — if you live long enough — most people get what they deserve.”
— Charlie Munger
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7. The self-esteem movement is overrated.
In the final analysis, it doesn’t really matter how you feel about yourself. What matters is how you act in the world and who you become along the way.
Thinking that you’re good the way you are actually prevents improvement because you can only improve if you first acknowledge what you’re not good at. And the truth is — you’re nowhere near what you could be.
True self-esteem (i.e. confidence) is based on competence. So grow the hell up, show some humility, and get to work. Stop caring about how much you “esteem” yourself for no reason and focus on what you’re doing every day to be a better person and live a good life.
Yes, treat yourself as if you’re a valuable individual, but focus more on who you can become than on who you are. As Niccolò Machiavelli wrote over five hundred years ago:
“The great majority of mankind is satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.”
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8. Take care of yourself.
Eat right, exercise regularly, stay hydrated, avoid unnecessary stress, and get enough sleep — nail these down and you’re golden.
Master the fundamentals before you try the “latest hack,” secret trick, or random tactic. Remember: Tactics address the symptoms while neglecting the problems. They solve a part of the effect, but they don’t treat the cause.
If you don’t get the foundation right, everything else is irrelevant.
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9. Stop looking for validation from others.
As Marcus Aurelius pointed out more than two thousand years ago: “It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.”
Stop looking for validation from others. You have a dream, an aim, a path that you want to pursue? Go after it. Be kind and polite to people, but don’t hinge your life on their approval. People don’t care about you as much as you think they do, anyway. And that’s a good thing.
The late Steve Jobs said it brilliantly:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
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10. Define clearly what success means to YOU.
It’s so easy to get caught up in someone else’s “success formula” that you start to feel guilty when you aren’t living up to that ideal.
Guilt is not a productive emotion, so here’s a better way to address this issue: Start by defining exactly what success means to you — not to your parents, not to your spouse, not to your friends, not to your community, but to YOU. What does success mean to you?
Once you’re clear about that, do whatever you need to do to live up to that standard and don’t feel guilty if your definition of success is different from what society tells you it should be.
You don’t need to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk or Steve Jobs to feel successful. You can define what success means to you and have the peace of mind knowing you did your best to live up to that promise.
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11. First stop lying, then start speaking the truth.
“Lies and deception destroy people’s lives,” says Prof. Jordan B. Peterson. “When they start telling the truth and acting it out, things get a lot better.”
He also points out that “when you tell a lie often enough, you become unable to distinguish it from the truth. If you tell enough lies, often enough, the truth will become entirely hidden from you… and then you are in hell.”
Say what you mean and mean what you say. Have the courage to speak up and stand up for yourself. As long as you tell the truth as carefully as you can, then whatever happens is the best that could’ve happened in that situation. As Nassim Taleb put it, “If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.” Speaking the truth is always in your best interest, no matter the consequences.
Above all else, be true to yourself. No one likes a fake.
“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”
— William Shakespeare
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12. Life is a balancing act between opposites. . .
Between the rational and the emotional; between black and white; between the sun and the moon; between yin and yang; between good and bad; between order and chaos; between life and death.
Contrast is what gives life its meaning. You learn to appreciate life not despite your mortality, but because of it. Death is what gives meaning to life. Darkness is what helps you appreciate the light. Winter is what helps you enjoy the summer. Pain is what helps you experience growth. Suffering is what helps you acknowledge the beauty in life.
You can’t have all heaven and no hell. You can’t have all black and no white. You can’t have all day and no night. It’s just the way it is. Embrace it. Both ends of the spectrum are necessary for a full experience of life.
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13. Strive to develop those parts of yourself that are situated at the other extreme.
If you’re good at one end of the personality trait distribution, try to develop some disciplines that are on the opposite side.
For example, if you’re high in agreeableness, maybe you can start learning how to set boundaries and say ‘NO’ more often. Conversely, if you’re highly disagreeable, learn to be kind and do some nice things for other people. If you’re high in extraversion, learn to spend some time with yourself. If you’re low in extraversion, learn to be comfortable around other people. If you’re high in conscientiousness, learn to relax from time to time. If you’re low in conscientiousness, learn to set yourself a schedule and stick to it, and so on.
The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung once noted that, “I’d rather be whole, than good.” That’s something to think about, which leads me to the next lesson…
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14. Integrate your Shadow.
It’s easy to judge the dark side in others. But it’s way harder to realize that what you hate in others is also part of yourself. What’s not part of ourselves doesn’t bother us.
Of course you might argue that the world would be a much better place if there weren’t so many evil people committing evil deeds. And that’s a reasonable proposition. But Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would object:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Beneath the light that shines through you is a world of darkness containing those very aspects of yourself that you have strived to ignore. Carl Jung referred to this as the “Shadow.”
The solution is not to deny your dark side, but to embrace it, because whatever you resist persists. I’ll say that again: What you resist persists. You can only change something if you first acknowledge its existence. Once you’re conscious of your flaws, you have a chance to improve them.
Thus, true personal transformation takes place when you stop denying the opposites within yourself and start integrating them within your character structure.
Here are two quotes as food for thought:
1) "This longing to commit a madness stays with us throughout our lives. Who has not, when standing with someone by an abyss or high up on a tower, had a sudden impulse to push the other over? And how is it that we hurt those we love although we know that remorse will follow?
Our whole being is nothing but a fight against the dark forces within ourselves. To live is to war with trolls in heart and soul. To write is to sit in judgment on oneself." — Henrik Ibsen
2) "Unfortunately there is no doubt about the fact that man is, as a whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Every one carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.
If an inferiority is conscious, one has always a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is steadily subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected." ― Carl Jung
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15. Learn to argue both FOR and AGAINST the matter under debate.
A profound shift in thinking takes place when you make the effort to argue for the opposite perspective instead of against it.
Charlie Munger once said that “if you disagree with somebody, you want to be able to state their case better than they can.” Similarly, Prof. Anthony Weston said that “if you can’t imagine how anyone could hold the view you are attacking, you just don’t understand it yet.”
Re-examine your convictions and destroy your previous conclusions because if you only look to confirm your beliefs, you’ll never discover if you’re wrong. “The reason we think is so that our thoughts can die instead of us,” noted Alfred North Whitehead.
Have the courage to take your deep-rooted convictions and challenge them against contradictory evidence. Seek the company of those who don’t agree with everything you say.
Pay attention. Learn to listen with the intent to understand, not with the intent to reply, on the off chance that the person you’re listening to might tell you something you don’t know. “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know,” said Dalai Lama. “But if you listen, you may learn something new.”
Rather than going to great lengths to prove to yourself and others that you’re right, aim to be less wrong.
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16. Risk and reward naturally go together.
To get the most out of life, one has to take more risk.
And here’s the thing: It’s okay to fear taking a risk. That’s not the problem. You should be afraid of taking risks in pursuit of something meaningful. But you should be more afraid of staying where you are if it’s making you miserable.
An individual running away from something that he doesn’t want towards something that he does want is an extremely motivated individual.
So when you have to make a difficult decision, don’t weigh only the costs and the benefits of doing it. You have to also specify the costs and the benefits of NOT doing it. Because sometimes the cost of NOT making a decision is far greater than the cost of making a decision — even if it’s a risky decision.
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17. Start before you’re ready.
It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to start a business, pursue a career path, write a book, or work on a meaningful project — the truth is, you’ll never feel ready. You’ll always have uncertainties, you’ll always be full of doubts, you’ll always feel unprepared and unqualified, and the list can go on and on and on.
But the reality is: there’s never a perfect time for anything. What I’ve discovered from personal experience is that we want everything to be perfect because it gives us an excuse not to start.
But let’s dig deeper. What’s stopping us from starting?
One word: fear.
It’s not that we feel uncertain, unqualified, or unprepared. It’s that deep down we fear that we might fail, that it won’t be “good enough,” that people will criticize us, judge us, make fun of us, and so on. But even if we muster the courage to start, guess what? Perfectionism kicks in.
We all know that person who could work on projects for months at a time without showing it to anyone because it wasn’t “done yet” (read: it wasn’t perfect). But then he’d end up not following through on any of these projects because it never rose to his unrealistic standards. Weeks, months, and even years went by in a steady stream of noble intentions, planning and doing, without a single result. Why? Because it was never “good enough.”
I share this from a place of love and empathy because I’ve been there. But there’s one thing that helped me overcome my perfectionism more than anything, and it’s this simple mantra:
Done is better than perfect.
Start before you’re ready, my friend. You can think, plan, and analyze all you want, and you can convince yourself that someday, the stars will align and it will be the perfect moment for you to take action on that project — but there will never be a better time to start than NOW.
No matter what it is that you want to go after in life, you already have enough to get going. Believe in your ability to figure things out because you’re way stronger than you think.
As James Clear put it:
“We all start in the same place: no money, no resources, no contacts, no experience. The difference is that some people — the winners — choose to start anyway.”
Action is the antidote to fear.
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18. Money, power, and fame are all magnifiers — they will only make you more of what you already are.
Plus, if that’s what you’re worshiping as your primary focus in life, just be mindful of the fact that you’ll never have enough.
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19. Travel, but don’t delude yourself.
Many people travel because they want to “escape” from something, or run away from something. But no matter where you go, you take yourself with you. And you can’t run away from yourself.
“All this hurrying from place to place won’t bring you any relief,” said Seneca, “for you’re traveling in the company of your own emotions, followed by your troubles all the way. […] If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place, but to be a different person.”
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20. Don't strive for happiness. Strive for meaning.
A healthy and well-adjusted individual is able to experience a wide variety of both positive and negative emotions, which as a result, makes him more resilient in the face of the inevitable suffering and tragedy of life.
He understands that there wouldn’t be positive without the negative. It’s part of the life scenario.
Ancient scripture says it best: “There’s a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” You have to learn to derive meaning and significance from all life experiences.
See, life is not that simple.
You cannot boil down all of human experience into just one emotional dimension (i.e. happiness / unhappiness). Life is about experiencing the whole range and depth of emotions. And positive emotion is just one of them.
When you’re stuck in this one-dimensional mentality, you forget that all emotions are transient like the waves of the ocean: they come and go; they ebb and flow.
The anger that you feel now will leave in a few hours. The joy that you feel now will be gone soon. The sadness and pain you experience now will be alleviated in the near future.
To believe that we can be happy and content all the time is delusional, and having that expectation can be rather dangerous. It’s not about controlling our emotions, which is impossible. It’s about learning how to channel them properly.
I’m not saying that you should say no to happiness. I’m saying don’t make happiness a goal in and of itself. You don’t achieve happiness by focusing on it. Happiness is the byproduct of a particular set of pursuits and ongoing life experiences.
As Dr. Jordan B. Peterson so eloquently put it:
“Making happiness the focal point of your life trivializes your experiences because in order to regard anything as truly important, you also have to regard its loss as truly meaningful. And that means that to open yourself up to experiences of deep meaning, also simultaneously means that you have to open yourself up to the possibility of deep hurt and sorrow.
[…] If you’re constantly in a state of placidity, satisfaction, and happiness, then nothing is going to affect you deeply enough – not your own suffering, not the suffering of other people, not injustice, not the horrors of the world – nothing is going to affect you deeply enough, so that you’ll become deep. And life without depth is by definition shallow and meaningless."
Ultimately, life is not just about seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Life is really about creating meaning.
And meaning, as far as I can tell, is to be found on the journey towards self-transcendence. Meaning is to be found in the struggle of one’s life, for it is necessary to believe that your suffering holds a great purpose in the grand scheme of things.
Therefore, it’s not about finding meaning to life itself. Rather, it’s about deriving meaning from the suffering endured through life.
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21. Be careful about who you surround yourself with for you will become like them.
Remember the story of the little bird?
The little bird had his wing over his eye and he was crying. The owl said to the little bird:
— You are crying.
— Yes, said the little bird, and he pulled his wing away from his eye.
— Oh, I see, said the owl. You’re crying because the big bird pecked out your eye.
And the little bird said:
— No, I’m not crying because the big bird pecked out my eye. I’m crying because I let him.
Psychologists have a name for it: social contagion, which basically means that we’re social animals and we always respond to the environments we’re in.
In fact, countless studies suggest that if you take a good person and put them in a bad environment, that person will do bad things. But if you take a bad person who performed bad acts, whom the group doesn’t trust, and you put them in a good environment, that person is capable of turning his life around and become a remarkable member of society.
In other words, it’s not the person, it’s the environment. That’s how powerful social influence is.
Many times we don’t even realize we’re being strongly affected by other people because that influence generally develops over an extended period of time.
How are we not aware? Because this powerful force, called peer pressure, is so subtle. Just like compound interest, it affects us a little at a time, until we finally find ourselves asking, “How did I get here?”
Given that the people with whom we choose to associate are a major source of influence in our life, the late Jim Rohn encourages us to consider asking ourselves these three questions:
1. Who am I around?
2. What effect are they having on me?
3. Is that okay?
After making this analysis, take the next important step of evaluating and shifting your associations into three buckets:
1. Disassociation – Who do you need to let go of?
2. Limited association – Who do you need to spend LESS time with? (Make sure you’re not spending three hours with a three-minute person.)
3. Expanded association – Who do you need to spend MORE time with?
Now here’s the thing: If your friends are not on the same path as you are, do your best to show them what’s possible. And who knows, maybe you can persuade them to go on this journey alongside you.
But don’t forget one critical aspect: You CANNOT change people. They can change themselves, but YOU can’t change them. All you can do is show them what’s possible. If they’re not willing to follow through, it’s their choice. Just be at peace with that.
If they don’t want to listen to you, if they’re not willing to move with you towards a better future, if they keep doing the same things over and over again, if they’re constantly falling into the same destructive behavioral patterns and it’s making them miserable, then it’s time to move on with your life and let them go.
Be good to those you care about, but don’t waste your time on people who don’t treat you well. Avoid toxic relationships. Stop hanging around negative people who always try to pull you down. Let them go because not everyone you lose is a loss.
It’s both your right and your responsibility to surround yourself with people who want the best for you.
See, there comes a point in your life when you realize who really matters, who never did, and who always will. As someone once said, people come into our lives for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.
Accept them and treasure them for however long they were meant to be part of your life. When they’re gone, be thankful for the gifts you received from them and move on.
Along the same lines, Tyler Perry shares a beautiful metaphor in this scene from the play “Madea Goes to Jail”:
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22. Embrace solitude.
“The fear of finding oneself alone — that is what they suffer from — and so they don’t find themselves at all.”
— Andre Gide
We are social creatures by nature and are ill-equipped to endure extreme cases of isolation. If we are alone for too long, our mental faculties can degrade, leading (in some cases) to tragic consequences.
As you know, everything that’s stretched to its extreme can be detrimental. The truth, however, is that just as much as we need connection in our life, we also need time for private reflection. We need balance between the two.
As Honoré de Balzac put it, “Solitude is fine, but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.” On the flip side, as Jean-Paul Sartre noted: “If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”
The truth is that if you’re not comfortable with yourself when you’re alone, you’ll always be dependent on other people to fulfill those wholes within you. There are certain needs we have that cannot be completely fulfilled by other people. We need silence. We need solitude.
We need to cut ourselves off from the noise and the distraction of the world from time to time, in order to get in touch with the voice within us. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
“There are voices which we hear only in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.”
Fundamentally, what lies at the core of fearing solitude is fearing oneself.
If you’re resisting silence, then it’s probably because there’s something that needs to be dealt with on the inside. And the best thing that you can do is to deal with it. Because if you don’t, it will start eating you from the inside out.
Shut down your computer, shut off your TV, turn off your phone, and go for a walk in nature. It’s time to go within. It’s time to learn to spend some time with yourself and get to know yourself.
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23. Never judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.
You never really know someone’s story.
Just because someone’s cheerful, loving, and joyous all the time, doesn’t mean they’ve got it all figured out. Don’t jump to conclusions too fast and don’t judge appearances because you don’t have insight into the tragedy of someone else’s life.
Have empathy and compassion. Everyone has personal demons that they’re fighting behind closed doors. If you’re strong enough to fight yours, make some time to help others fight theirs.
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24. Learn to love someone without owning them.
Your partner is not your possession. This is hard to grasp in a world filled with “If he doesn’t get jealous when I’m around other people, then he doesn’t really love me,” type of statements. But love is not ownership.
When you truly love someone and they decide to leave, you don’t grow angry and resentful. You’re able to let them go because you want the best for them. Yes, it’s freaking hard. Yes, it’s painful. But you’ll grow stronger because of it.
Transcend your desire to possess. Allow yourself to fully experience the emotions associated with the feeling of love, but remain detached from the outcome.
“If you love a flower, don’t pick it up.
Because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love.
So if you love a flower, let it be.
Love is not about possession.
Love is about appreciation.”
Ultimately, improving your relationships is really about improving yourself because you can only love someone to the extent that you can love yourself. You can only help someone to the extent that you can help yourself.
Always go back to yourself because the best thing you can do for others is to become your best self, first.
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25. Read. A lot.
As Seneca said, “Of all people only those are at leisure who make time for philosophy, only those are really alive. For they not only keep a good watch over their own lifetimes, but they annex every age to theirs.”
Let that sink in for a minute: “They not only keep a good watch over their own lifetimes, but they annex every age to theirs.”
Here’s how I like to think about it:
When you live your life, you are living only ONE life. When you read a great book, you’re able to download an entire lifetime’s worth of work and experience in a few hours. Congratulations! You’ve got one more life inside of you. But what if you multiply that by hundreds or thousands?
As George R.R. Martin put it:
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”
Now let’s take it to the next level.
Imagine that you take a multidisciplinary approach to learning and you decide to go both wide and deep in many different fields. Instead of reading only business books for example, you begin to study psychology, philosophy, biology, physics, history, economics, and engineering.
Now imagine that you start relating principles from multiple disciplines to each other, recognize patterns and see how everything is connected to everything else.
Can you think of a greater super power? I can’t.
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26. Don’t be a follower, be a student.
Marcus Aurelius observed that “everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”
Don’t take anything at face value. Question authority. Do your own research. But don’t over-think everything either. No matter how good an idea might sound, you have to stress-test it against reality. Realize that some of the most important lessons in life cannot be taught directly. You have to derive them from your own experience. As Marcel Proust said:
“We do not receive wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can make for us, which no one can spare us, for our wisdom is the point of view from which we come at last to regard the world.”
. . .
27. Lack of time is almost always a lack of priorities.
Instead of saying “I don’t have time,” simply say that “It’s not a priority.” If it’s a priority, you’ll find a way or you’ll make a way; if it’s not, you’ll always find an excuse.
Now you might say, “But you don’t understand, I’m spread too thin.” You’re never spread too thin. You have a problem with setting boundaries and scheduling your priorities. Learn to say NO. This is a skill. And like any skill, you’ll get good at it with practice.
. . .
28. Prioritize impact, not busyness.
Don’t confuse movement for achievement; activity for productivity; busyness for progress. Putting in more hours doesn’t always mean better work.
Let me elaborate on this one.
So many times you hear in interviews with millionaires or billionaires how hard they work Monday through Friday, and even on weekends, putting in 12 and 14 hours a day, every day. And when you ask them what does it really take to be successful in life, they always say: You gotta work hard.
But what does that really mean “you gotta work hard”? Because many times you can see people at the office purely on Facebook or watching YouTube all day, and yet they’re at the office 12 hours a day — that’s not working hard; that’s just being at the office. I’m talking about real work.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with hard work, I’m all for it. But there’s a difference between working hard doing the right things and working hard doing the wrong things. You could be spending all day working, working, working, but the real question is: Doing what?
Top performers don’t define productivity by how many tasks they complete or how fast they can complete them. Instead, they are driven by a deeper question:
How much progress did I make on the few things that matter most of all?
They understand that there’s never enough time and energy to get everything done in any given day. But there’s always enough time to get the most important things done.
To put it another way, it’s not about adding, it’s about subtracting. It’s about eliminating the things, tasks or activities that need not be done at all.
You see, your job and my job is not to set priorities. That’s easy, everybody can do that. What’s difficult is deciding what tasks NOT to tackle in the first place and having the discipline required to stick to that decision.
Just do a simple exercise. Before engaging in any activity, task or project, consider asking yourself a simple question: “What would happen if this were not done at all?” If the answer is, “Nothing would happen,” then obviously you need to stop doing it.
I don’t argue about the fact that we’re all very busy. It’s just that we make the mistake too often of being busy doing the wrong things. It doesn’t matter how right we do those wrong things, it’s always going to be wrong.
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29. Be humble or be humiliated.
“The only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing,” said Socrates.
Become aware of your own insufficiency and let your old self die to make place for your new self to be reborn. Realize your ignorance and be willing to learn. Have the courage to ask for help: it’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength.
Frankly, the more I go through life, the more I realize that I don’t know much relative to what I need to know. Oddly enough, this philosophy turns out to be very helpful. As Jim Rohn so eloquently put it:
“If you’ve got to the point in life where you feel you’ve got all the answers, you better start asking some different questions.”
. . .
30. Get in touch with your mortality.
“Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. … The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”
So many times we strive to get more, more, and more in our lives, but we forget to appreciate and be grateful for what we already have.
We build these false expectations that once we’ll have more money, get a bigger house, get a better job, buy that new car, or achieve X, Y, Z goal, then we’ll finally be happy.
We go for the next shiny object, the next thing on the list, never satisfied and never questioning where we’re going. Always wanting more than we have, we run, run and run like hamsters on a wheel.
But what if that “next day” never comes?
This may sound overly pessimistic to you. But to me, this is a positive idea because it reminds me to not lose perspective and to stay connected to my mortality. It reminds me of the shortness of life. It reminds me to be grateful. It me reminds me of the importance of being present. It reminds me to say the things I want to say NOW, not later.
So take the time to call your parents and let them know how much you love them — today. Call a friend and tell him how much you appreciate him for being part of your life — today. Take the time to watch the sun come up — today. Make the time to look at the stars in the evening — today. Write a thank you note to someone you care about — today. Take the time to hug your kids and tell them how much you love them — today. Extend some gratitude to everyone around you — today.
Life is pretty short, but we like to think that it will last an eternity. As Seneca said, “It is not that we have so little time but that we lose so much. […] The life we receive is not short but we make it so; we are not ill provided but use what we have wastefully.” And at another time he suggested that, “Life is long, if you know how to use it.”
And look, I’m aware that Silicon Valley is doing its best to “cure death” and make humans immortal. I get it. But until we get there, let’s hope for a better future with our feet firmly planted in reality.
The truth of the matter is that all of us will die sooner or later (at least for now). But we can’t predict when this will happen. In fact, our life might turn out to be much shorter than we think. So instead of hoping that this day never comes, let’s live our lives with meaning till the day we give our last breath.
As the late Steve Jobs famously said:
“Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
In fact, for the last 33 years of his life, he would look in the mirror every morning and ask himself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” If the answer is ‘no’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
So maybe now is the time to rethink how you’re living. Maybe now is the time to rethink your values. Maybe now is the time to rethink your goals. Maybe now is the time to give up on what society wants you to be and start being what you’ve always wanted to be.
Maybe it’s time to stop listening to that deep voice within that says, “I’m not good enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not worthy. I’m too old. I’m too young, and on and on…” Maybe it’s time to stop living in your head so much and start following your heart’s calling.
Please don’t postpone living a life true to yourself.
“When you were born, you cried while the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a way that when you die, the world cries while you rejoice.”
— Rabindranath Tagore
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Thank you for taking the time to read this article! I hope that we’re both lucky enough to talk again one year from now.
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