“The trouble is if you don’t spend your life yourself,
other people spend it for you.”
Every summer, like clockwork, after high school and college graduation ceremonies send new graduates trotting off into the real world, Angel and I receive a few hundred emails from eager late teen and early 20-something subscribers (subscribe here) that basically ask the same fundamental question:
“What do you suggest I learn or work on now that I’m out of school and on my own?”
Obviously, a comprehensive list of important lessons and life skills could be infinite. And over the years Angel and I have written several articles like “18 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I Was 18” and “25 Things I Would Tell My 20-Year-Old Self” geared to give the 18 to 22 crowd something positive to think about. But every time we write an article like these for the youngsters, we inevitably receive a few hundred more emails that say something like, “I loved the article, but what about an article for my age bracket?”
So today, for graduates, 30-somethings, and beyond, here’s a list of general lessons and life skills Angel and I work on every single day – a list worth growing into and working on for the rest of your adult life:
- You have to stand beside yourself, 100%, every day. – Self-respect, self-worth and self-love. There’s a reason they all start with “self.” You can’t receive them from anyone else. You are GOOD enough, SMART enough, ATTRACTIVE enough, and STRONG enough. Believe it! Own it! And never let insecurity and negativity run your life. There will always be someone who tells you that you can’t do something. Your mission is to smile and prove them wrong. One smile at a time.
- Nothing great ever comes from a comfort zone. Period. – If you want to stunt your growth and feel stuck in the same place forever, keep making excuses. If, on the other hand, you want to stop feeling trapped, you have to start doing things that make you uncomfortable – things you aren’t very good at. There is no excuse for remaining stuck. There is no excuse for doing the same exact mundane things over and over again. Life is too short. Ask yourself if what you’re doing today is getting you closer to where you want to be tomorrow. What a disgrace it would be for you to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of your full potential.
- Fight for it. Do what’s right, not what’s easy. – Short-term adversity and failure are two of the surest stepping-stones to life-long success. Things can change if you want them to, at any age. As I awoke this morning, I marveled at my life today. Where once I woke with dread at the thought of a new day, now I wake with excitement to begin – grateful to be doing what I’m doing for a living. I am so happy I did what I had to do, and struggled through the tough times and the fears, and realigned my life with the things that make me happy. When friends ask me how I did it, as they sometimes do, I tell them, “Hard work and persistence. It’s a small price to pay for a changed life.”
- Be a beacon of honesty and respect. – Be the type of person you want to meet and be around. Be the type of person whose actions, words and values always agree with each other.
- Neglecting your interests and passions is self-deception. – Doing so is like pretending to be someone you’re not – living a lie. Don’t do it. Live a life you are proud of. Follow your excitement. When you lose yourself in the things you love, you will find yourself there, too. (Read The 4-Hour Workweek.)
- Challenge yourself to beat your own personal records. – No one can do it for you – you have to choose to use your wings. Challenge yourself to be who you know you are capable of being. Challenge yourself to follow through – to live what you preach, to walk your talk. Don’t worry about how slowly you feel you’re heading towards your goals, or how many roadblocks you find, or how many detours you’re forced to take. As long as you keep doing your thing, you’re still cruising far ahead of everyone who’s too scared to even try.
- Your struggles are really your best growth opportunities. – Know in your heart that there is strength inside you that is greater than the troubles you face. Stay strong. Be positive. We all struggle sometimes. Life’s about breaking our own limits and outgrowing ourselves to live our best lives. The more obstacles you overcome, the stronger you become. The one who falls and gets up is so much stronger than the one who never fell. You will honestly never know how strong you truly are until being strong is the only choice you have. Keep going. Keep growing.
- Your alleged flaws will often work for you. – The little things about you that you think are your flaws are often the reasons others fall in love with you. Accept your flaws. Admit your mistakes. Don’t hide and don’t lie. Deal with the truth, learn the lessons, endure the consequences of reality, and move forward. Your truth won’t penalize you. The mistakes won’t hurt you. The denial and cover-up will. Flawed and vulnerable people are beautiful and likable. Liars and phonies are not. Every beautiful human being is made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions and finished with unique qualities.
- Let go and grow. Embrace change. – Always respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that holds you back and no longer grows you. Thank your past for all the lessons, and move forward. By leaving behind your old self and taking a leap of faith into the unknown, you find out who you’re truly capable of becoming. You can’t grow unless you’re willing to change. You will know you’re on the right track when you become uninterested in looking back.
- Work through your fears and take calculated risks. – No matter how long you get to live, life is relatively short. And before you know it, you’re going to be dust. And the janitor gets buried next to the doctor. And all that really matters in the end is how big you showed up and how bold you were. Because when you’re taking your final breath, what will fill your heart with the greatest regret will not be all the risks you took, and not all the opportunities you chased, and not all the times you fell on your face and looked like a fool. What will fill your heart with the greatest regret in that final moment is all the risks you never took and all the opportunities you never had the courage to explore.
- Balance your time with your priorities. – There will always be more than one option and more than one obligation competing for your time. You must find the balance that works best for you in your unique situation – the right balance between activity and rest, work and family, passion and money, short-term and long-term goals, getting things done and leaving them undone. Without balance everything falls out of whack. For instance, when you let your work life, or social life, or family life consume you, and 100% of your energy is focused in that one area, every other area of your life suffers. Maybe that’s OK with you. Maybe not. But you need to decide and manage your time accordingly.
- A small attitude change always makes a BIG difference. – Those who move forward with a positive spirit will find that things always work out. In any situation, it’s not your specific circumstances that shape you, it’s how you react to your circumstances. You can’t direct the wind, but you can always adjust your sails. When it rains look for rainbows, when it’s dark out, look for stars. Making a habit of this takes time and practice, but the positive effects will change the trajectory of your life.
- Stop from time to time and ask yourself, “Is it true?” – It’s funny how humans can wrap their mind around things and fit them into their version of reality. Thinking something does not make it true. Wanting something does not make it real. So watch your thoughts.
- Put as much positive energy as you can muster into the present. – Be at peace with what has been. Doing so enables you to focus your energy into making the best of what can be. Get beyond your worries about what may or may not happen, or what other people might think of you. Invest yourself in the real and present actions you can take to make a positive difference. Your life is too important to waste on things you can’t do anything about. Put your efforts into present opportunities. Feel love instead of fear, joy in the place of worry, and focus on your possibilities instead of your resentments. Imagine your life at its best, and bring the best to your life.
- Let needless stress rest in peace. – Would you like to have less stress in your life? Then quit creating it. Rather than jumping at the chance to be offended, choose to be amused. Instead of filling your thoughts with resentment, fill your heart with forgiveness. If someone is rude to you, let it be that person’s personal problem and not yours. Quickly grow beyond each disappointment, while savoring and sharing each joy. Life in general is what it is. Yet your life in particular, and your experience of it, is the way you choose to live it.
- Many of your biggest questions can only be answered through experience. – Regardless of your age or stature, life is always filled with unanswered questions. It is the courage to ask these questions and adventurously seek the answers that continues to give life meaning. Have patience with everything that remains unresolved in your heart. Try to love the unanswered questions themselves. Do not demand all the answers; they cannot be given to you because you have to live through them. It is a matter of experiencing everything. Only when you do will you gradually, perhaps without even noticing it, find yourself arriving at the answers you seek.
- Make time every day to be alone. – Sometimes you need to be alone… not to be lonely, but to enjoy some free time just breathing and being YOU. In order to be one with your relationships and life’s work, you have to turn away from the busyness of the world for a while. You need to find solitude to refuel. You must withdraw into your innermost self. You need to ponder your successes and failures in seclusion; you need the sunshine and the moonlight to illuminate you without others to distract you, without the ongoing banter, face to face with your inner core, with only the sound of your heartbeat for company.
- There’s a maintenance cost for everything you own and hold on to. – We can speak in dollars – insurance, taxes and interest. Or even in time – cleaning, updating and protecting. But the hardest maintenance cost for most people is simply sentimental value. We transfer our feelings and memories onto an object and decide we can’t let go because we’ll risk losing the feeling or memory. Before long, we become surrounded by these visual reminders of our memories and no longer have room to make new ones. It’s hard to move forward in your life when your past is crowding your present. Bottom line: Buy less crap and more new, enlightening experiences. (Read The Joy of Less.)
- True wealth is NOT measured in money. – No matter where life takes you, big cities or small towns, you will inevitably come across others who think they know what’s best for you – people who think they’re better than you – people who think happiness, success and beauty mean the same things to everyone. They’ll try to measure your worth based on what you have, instead of who you are. But you know better than that – material things don’t matter. Don’t chase the money. Catch up to the ideas and activities that make you come alive. Go for the things of greater value – the things money can’t buy. What matters is having strength of character, an honest heart, and a sense of self-worth. If you’re lucky enough to have any of these things, never sell them. Never sell yourself short.
- Practice being mindful of your blessings. – You honestly never fully grasp how much someone means to you until the reality of their existence becomes an uncertain, immanent matter of life and death. You never truly appreciate what you have in every little moment until you are faced with the possibility of not having another. But try your hardest every day to appreciate what you have anyway. Look around and be thankful for your life. For your health, your family, your friends and your home. Many people don’t have these things, and never will.
- Don’t hold your love in. Let it out. – Where you invest your love, you invest your life. Love without limits. Love like there’s no tomorrow. And if tomorrow comes, love again. It’s this love that makes the impossible possible.
- There are right people and wrong people for you. – There are fake people, and those who are true friends. There are people who take the heart out of you, and those who put it back. You have a choice of who to spend time with. True friends have an honest heart, and will go out of their way to help you when you need it most. Stick with the people who never let you down and keep their promises. You can’t fake that.
- Pay close attention to who really cares. – You have to allow yourself to be loved by the people who really love you, the people who really matter. Far too often, we are blinded by our own pursuits of people to love us, people that don’t even matter in the grand scheme of things. We waste our time and the people who truly do love us have to sit on the curb and watch us beg in the streets. Don’t do this to yourself. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Relationships” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- Never be ashamed to speak up. – Don’t hold all your thoughts hostage. Anything that’s true in your mind – feelings, fears, etc. – is mentionable to a good friend, and anything that’s mentionable can be more manageable. When you can talk about how you feel, your thoughts become less overwhelming and scary, and more understood. The good friends you trust with these important talks ultimately help you realize that you’re not alone in this world.
- Keep your envy in check. – When you feel flustered because someone has received the very thing you want, force yourself to remember how much you have already been given. Remember that there’s plenty for everyone, and that everyone gets one dose at a time. Remember that what happened to someone else has absolutely no bearing on what happens to you. Your success is unique to you. Remember that a wonderful thing has happened to this other person, and if you keep working and pushing forward, something wonderful will also happen to you at just the right time.
- Be selective in your battles. Peace is often better than being right. – Sometimes we choose to be wrong, not because we really are wrong, but because we value our relationship more than our pride. When two people who care about each other fight, both are wrong. They have put some kind of superficial outcome over love and compromise. The one who apologizes and makes up first, is the one who is right.
- When someone is unpleasant, they may just need your kindness. – Some people are rude as a way of crying for help. They may not be conscious of it though, so their comments come across as attacks rather than requests. Show a little love and concern. Do something nice for them. Just a simple “Are you okay?” or “Is there anything I can do to help you?” can work wonders in certain situations. Resist the urge to judge or assume. It’s hard to offer compassion when you assume you have them figured out. Let them know they’re not alone. People overcome the forces of negative emotions, like anger and hatred, when the counter-forces of love and support are in full effect.
- Learn who the liars are, and don’t let them affect you more than once. – Don’t lie to people who trust you, and don’t trust people who lie to you. These negative relationships will never give you a positive life. And whatever you do, don’t let the same exact people lie to you over and over again. If someone fools you once, shame on them. If someone fools you twice, shame on you. If you catch someone lying to you, speak up. Some people will lie to you repeatedly in a vicious effort to get you to repeat their lies over and over until they effectively become true. Don’t partake in their nonsense. Don’t let their lies be your reality.
- Don’t betray yourself by hating someone for betraying you. – Betrayal is a double-edged sword. Not only do you feel betrayed by someone you trusted, you feel like you betrayed yourself for trusting this person in the first place. You blame them and then you blame yourself. If you feel betrayed, it’s important to release any feelings of hate at once. By doing so the bitterness has no time to take root. Only then can you begin the process of evaluating the real situation – perhaps a frightening possibility such as: “My beloved doesn’t love me,” or perhaps a more innocuous realization: “This was an honest mistake that deserves to be forgiven.”
- Keep the reckless expectation of perfection in check. – If you always look for perfection you will always look unhappy, in all walks of life. And this is especially true for relationships. So don’t berate people for not being perfect. Admire them for not being fake. Even though you probably get confused sometimes, you don’t really want your friends and lovers to be perfect. What you do want is people you can trust, who treat you right – people you can act silly with, who love being around you as much as you love being around them.
If you’re struggling with any of these lessons and life skills, know that you are not alone. Many of us are right there with you, working hard to feel better, think more clearly, and keep our lives and relationships on track. This is precisely why Angel and I wrote our book, “1,000 Little Things Happy Successful People Do Differently.” It’s filled with short, concise tips on how to do just that. And believe it or not, Angel and I review a lot of our own material on a regular basis too, just to center our minds on these positive principles.
The bottom line is that it’s never too late to take a step in the right direction. It’s never too late to become the person you are capable of being. Things can change if you want them to, at any age. Right now you have the opportunity of a lifetime.
What has life taught you that has helped you excel?
Think about all the things you would love to tell yourself if you could travel back in time to give your younger self some advice about life.
Please leave a comment below and share your insight with the community.
Photo by: Lee