Today is my 23rd birthday. I’m extremely blessed and thankful to have made it another crazy year, and can’t help but reflect on my life so far and what I’ve learned. Granted, I am still on the youngish side, and I don’t claim to know it all by any means.
These are the things that, if I had a daughter or dear young friend, I would want them to know. Perhaps the things I wish I could have told my younger, more confused self.
With that in mind, here are the top 23 lessons I’ve learned in my 23 years.
Negative emotions are caused by being stuck in another time.
When we feel anxious, scared, or hopeless, it’s because we’re projecting into the future. When we feel depressed, angry, or bitter, it’s because we’re stuck in the past. The solution to both lies in living in this moment. We simply cannot change the past. Will you let it stain the here and now with its pain? Likewise, we have no idea how the future will turn out, no matter how certain it seems now. Whether it’s something as large as a major life decision or as small as the day-to-day stresses of the workweek, we will ruin the peace of today if we fill it with the unknowns of tomorrow or the dead pains of yesterday.
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” – Corrie ten Boom
Don’t wait for the “perfect time”.
There will always be stress and to-dos. You will never quite feel like you know enough. Don’t let the fear of difficulty or lack of expertise stop you from doing what you know you need to. You don’t have to start off as an expert, or even be good. With any amount of progress, you’re light years ahead of the person who just dreams about it. Small progress executed over time does far more than waiting to start off as an expert – you won’t be prepared anyway!
“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” – Barack Obama
Work to live, don’t live to work.
This one was an especially hard one for me. I tend to be a workaholic, often at the cost of my friendships, relationships, and even health. The truth is that nobody on their death bed wished they had worked more. A healthy work ethic is good, but remember the why behind your work: to provide for and care for your family, to fund a humble and happy life, or to fuel your passions and perhaps travel. What’s the point of hustling and sacrifice if there is no one to share it with and nothing to show for it?
“In the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” – Leo Tolstoy
Learn to say no.
Part of the reason we find ourselves overwhelmed in life is because many of us are prone to committing to too much. As a former yes-woman, I can attest to the life-saving skill of saying no more. No to nonproductive tasks, no to unfulfilling relationships, and even no to those who would push guilt, shame, or judgement for saying no. Maximize your productivity and piece of mind by rejecting all things that are toxic or that don’t serve you well.
“When we don’t want to do something we can simply smile and say no.
We don’t have to explain ourselves, we can just say ‘No’.”- Susan Gregg
Never show your full cards.
It’s good to be vulnerable and have an open heart, but it’s equally important to know when to keep your cards close. Not only will you become more mysterious and alluring, but you’ll never regret a word you don’t say or a rash action that you don’t take.
“Silence is often misunderstood, but never misquoted.” – Unknown
Don’t let your education end when you graduate.
Whether it’s from high school or college, many people fail to make education a lifelong journey. With the rise of the internet, there is no reason why you can’t expand your vocabulary, learn a new language, master a marketable skill, or become a savant in your hobby of choice. Equally important is to never let schooling get in the way of true learning – looking at things with a beginner’s mind, full of curiosity and wonder. Learn about something outside of your career or formal education that ignites your creativity and awe for the world and become a master of it.
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain
You are the people you spend time with.
From income to weight to happiness and mindset, study after study has proven that we tend to be like the people we spend the most time with. Do the people you spend time with bathe in negative thoughts and reactivity? Do they do nothing but chase the next material excitement? Are they slaves to their bad habits and vices? Be honest with yourself and ask if the people closest to you, the ones you spend most of your time with, are acting as a giant headwind on your life’s journey. Ruthlessly cut out toxic or dead-end relationships, or at the very least loosen their ties and replace them with healthier ones.
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” ― Jim Rohn
There are no shortcuts to anything worthwhile in life.
Millions, probably even billions, of dollars are wasted every year on “magic pills”. You know what I’m talking about. The asinine infomercials you see at 2am promising hundreds of pounds of weight loss, like, yesterday. The MLMs your friend wants you to get into because if you only front the tiny sum of $300 for a starter kit, you’ll be a billionaire next year. A business in a can!
Those things, like any insta-success story, are horseshit. Anything worth having in life – a beautiful marriage, financial success, a waistline to beat the band – are all the result of hundreds of tiny, focused choices executed over time. It’s about being committed long after motivation and willpower have lost their hold. It’s about pushing on and doing the work even when it sucks, even when you’re tired, and even when you feel like crying.
You ever see those people who are absolutely jacked? It’s not because they went to the gym three times at the beginning of January and decided to let their diet fizzle. They understood that no fad diet, “weird new trick”, or fitness hack was going to get them to where they needed to go. It’s hard work and smart work that gets results, not magic pills.
“Short cuts make long delays.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien
Identify your goals. Make them real with plans and math where possible.
Let’s say you want to go on vacation to somewhere exotic and exciting. Let’s say Madrid or Paris.
“Someday,” you might say.
But what would it really take? What’s stopping you?
Money? For someone in my hometown booking a flight three weeks in advance, the cost for two people to go would be perhaps $2000. Add in money for knick-knacks, sightseeing, a modest place to stay, and doodads, and you’re probably looking at $3000. If you trade in your twice-a-week take-out at $75 per week for 40 weeks in a row, you have yourself a kick-ass long weekend abroad. Or perhaps you
The point is that once you identify your goals and break the big, overwhelming behemoth into smaller, more manageable tasks, it becomes that much more likely to happen. All it takes is taking that first step to try to break that monster up.
“Focus like a laser beam on your goals.” ― Roy T. Bennett
You are more than your career.
When I was younger I would agonize over my career options. While I was in the top 1% of my class and had quite a lot of leeway on my potential options, I was paralyzed. Did I want to be a doctor? Did I want to be a counselor, or perhaps a professor?
The truth is, I couldn’t have known. I was too young and inexperienced to know, and, in truth, most of us never have a light bulb moment in which we understand what we were meant to do.
What I’ve found is important is to understand that we are multifaceted people and that, contrary to what American culture would seem to tell you, we are not just our career. Rather, we are people who do things. Whether as a professor, counselor, or doctor, I wanted to be a person who heals, who guides, and who teaches. It’s more important to focus on the common theme and focus on what about the job you love than to focus on the job itself.
It’s just as important, especially for fellow workaholics, to realize that you are more than your career. Like we covered in #2, don’t let your work overshadow your life. Leave work at the office when you’re off your 9-5 and use your 5-9 to nourish your mind, body, spirit, and heart.
“I want to be a human being, not a human doing.”-John Paul Larkin
The world only cares about what it can get from you.
This might sound a bit pessimistic or cynical, but it’s not meant to be. It’s a hard truth, but probably the most important one I’ve learned in my life. Whether it’s a hot guy (or gal), potential employer, or amazing potential bestie, they are not going to give you the time of day if you don’t offer something of massive value to them.
Why should that employer choose you over the 3,000 other people who have applied? Because you always show up on time?
Sorry, but that perfect attendance award you got in 3rd grade won’t get you far in real life.
LOTS of people are pretty, nice, and show up on time. If you don’t have something unique to bring to the table, whether it’s your perspective, a useful or special skill, or great personality, you’re not going to get what you’re looking for. If you want something remarkable, you have to offer something 10 times as remarkable in return.
“Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.” ― Albert Einstein
There is no such thing as talent.
I’ll be honest: I don’t believe in talent. I don’t believe that Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Einstein, or any other master in their craft got there by a stroke of luck or by divine will. They hustled and busted tail while everybody else was sleeping or wasting time. History’s top performers relentlessly devoted themselves to their work, and weren’t content to stay comfortable in their skill set. They were constantly hungry for the next big challenge to better their craft . The plain truth is that if you want what no one else has, you have to do what no one else has. Like we covered in point #8, there are no magic bullets or cop-outs for success – not even “natural talent”.
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” ― Stephen King
If something upsets you, it’s because of your beliefs and not the thing itself.
For two years, my brother-in-law of sorts (my boyfriend’s brother) has come to live with us following a divorce.
He’s got two very, very messy children who lack manners, cleanliness, and at times, toilet training, in spite of being 8 and 10 years old .
Needless to say, I was absolutely incensed at first, and I think few will fail to see why. It at first put a tremendous strain on our relationship and there were several times where I asked myself if I were crazy for choosing this almost overly compassionate man as my partner.
But the fact of the matter is that it’s not my brother-in-law who was upsetting me. It was my beliefs about him.
I believed that it was wrong. How could I work so hard to care for the house, his kids, his and my boyfriend’s dying mother, and hold down a business and attend university while all he does is work his menial $10/hr job and bum on the couch endlessly? Why should I have to care for and clean up after his dirty kids? Why is he inconveniencing me and tearing down the strength of our relationship?
Who can say why he lives the way he lives and has done what he has done. It’s nothing that I can change.
All I can do is change what I thought about it and how I react to it. Will I continue to let something unchangeable poison my mind, my health, and my relationship? Or will I make peace with the fact that he simply lives differently from me and has a different perspective?
I took the freeing course of letting go. If I cannot change him or his kids, I can choose how I feel about it.
“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.” ― Steve Maraboli
If you’re not happy, change it.
This goes hand-in-hand with the last point. You can’t change life or other people, but you can change how you feel about them. See the step-by-step guide here.
“What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.” – Maya Angelou
Avoid debt of every variety.
The total average US household debt, including mortgages, totaled to $134,643 in 2016. That’s $16,748 in credit card debt alone. (Source)
Debt may have become the American way of life, but it doesn’t have to be. It can easily keep you a slave to the rat race as your bills grow, your cost of living grows, and your free time and sanity dwindle.
Do yourself a favor and avoid the temptation of debt. If you can’t afford it now, you won’t be able to afford it later when your creditors expect payments. Trust me – the pain of not having that doodad is way more bearable than the pain of having to get a side gig or stay in a job you hate just to pay off your nasty bills.
“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.” ― Charles Dickens
You will regret more the things you didn’t do than the things you did.
If things go right, then you’ll have some thing to smile about when you’re older. If things go poorly, you’ll have a good story. But if you do nothing, you’ll have nothing but an “I wish I did…”
Do the things that scare you.
The more you want to avoid it, the more you must do it. The more it scares you, the more you can stand to grow and mature from the experience.
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
Spend your money on things money can buy and your time on things money can’t.
There is a nearly infinite amount of money in the world, but everyone – from the bag lady to the richest queen – has a limited number of days. So while, yes, money is important, time is our most important resource. Use it wisely on the people, ideas, and work that matter – not on video games and a soul-sucking lifestyle.
“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.” ― Bruce Lee
You don’t need most of the things you have.
As a largely consumerist society, we buy and buy and buy, often without purpose. What would happen if a disaster blew through your home? Would you even remember what was lost?
Get rid of half of what you own.
Get rid of half again.
Enjoy the new simplicity in your life. If nothing else, you’ll have less to dust and pack when you move.
“Out of clutter, find simplicity.” ― Albert Einstein
You cannot succeed without failure.
You’ll learn more from your failures than you will from your successes. Fail harder and fail faster to succeed better and faster. The most successful people know that failure is not something to be ashamed of, but rather the dues to be paid on the way to something great.
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” ― Paulo Coelho
Other people don’t have to understand your journey.
Carefully consider why other people are judging your situation and realize that not everybody will be pleased by your decisions. Don’t try to be everything to everyone, though. The most certain way to make yourself miserable is by trying to please everybody but yourself.
Start your day off right.
Getting into a powerful morning routine will massively improve your productivity, health, and happiness. Ideally, it will allow you to nourish your mind, body, and spirit in a way that makes today the best day of your life every single day. Here’s my quick guide on starting a morning routine that’ll help you kill it before 9am.
Cherish this moment.
What have you learned?
Whether you have been around for 5 or 95 years, we all have something we can learn from others. What has life taught you in your journey, no matter how long or short that’s been?
Be sure to share with me below!