This afternoon my neighbor’s 16-year-old son interviewed me for a school project entitled “Lessons Life Teaches.” He came over to our condo with a white poster board that had nine words written on it. After a few miscellaneous introductory questions, he asked me to think about the words on the poster board for a few minutes and then, in the simplest way possible, explain what life had taught me about each one. Here are the nine words and what I told him:
Time passes quickly, and if you’re lucky enough, you’ll live long enough to marvel at the memories.
Picture yourself in twenty years walking past a park where you used to play with your friends when you were in kindergarten. While you’re passing by you notice that the park in now jam-packed with a new set of little faces. As you watch these kids swinging from the swing set and climbing trees together, you reminisce about simpler times and think about how these kids are going to grow up someday and do many of the same things that you’ve done. They will fall in love, and make mistakes, and fight adversities, and change their minds a dozen times about what they want to do with their lives.
But not yet, not now. At this moment swinging and climbing are sufficient feats for them. And although it would be nice if swinging and climbing were endlessly sufficient, you know they aren’t. You know life is infinitely more elaborate and beautiful – even in ways you have yet to experience – and that with each passing moment we all become a greater part of this elaborate beauty in every imaginable way. Read 1,000 Little Things.
When someone loves you, you know it. When they look your way, the world looks better. When they say your name, the world sounds better. When they kiss your skin, the world feels better. You know your soul is safe in their care.
But even more so than any physical interaction, there’s a silent connection between you that you can feel in your veins. You can sit in front of them for hours, without saying a word or moving a muscle, and yet still feel them with your heart. It’s almost like they’ve always been a part of you – like a long lost fragment of your essence has found its way home.
The single most important thing in life is what it all means to you. Life doesn’t come prepackaged with this meaning either; you create it. Doing so is rarely easy, but it’s always within your power and well worth the effort. You’ll be far happier for troubling yourself, rather than letting everyone else design your life for you.
Ultimately, the secret is to follow your intuition and make the most of the resources you have access to. Whatever comes your way, seemingly good and bad fortunes alike, you can always give these events meaning by transforming them into positive lessons and reflections, and then using them as stepping stones.
It’s impossible to know exactly how another person is feeling or what kind of emotional battles they’re fighting. Sometimes the widest smiles hide the thinnest strands of self-confidence and hope. Sometimes the ‘rich’ have everything but happiness. Realize this as you interact with others, long before you pass judgment. Every smile or sign of strength hides an inner struggle every bit as complex and extraordinary as your own.
It’s a sage fact of life, really, that every one of us encompasses a profound and unique set of secrets and mysteries that are absolutely undetectable to everyone else. Read Have You Filled a Bucket Today?
Sometimes you will have thoughts about yourself that even you can’t fully comprehend. Thoughts that aren’t true – that aren’t really how you feel – that don’t represent who you are today. But they’re running through your mind anyway and confusing your focus. Where do these thoughts come from? Perhaps they’re fragments of who you used to be or of who you thought you once were – an old ghost that still haunts your subconscious mind from time to time.
The good news is you’re not alone. If you could read the minds of other people, including those whom you love and admire, you’d overhear thoughts and nostalgic whispers that are constructive and true as well as some that are outdated and confused. The key is to realize that the latter thoughts are normal to have. We all deal with them. Maybe they’re a part of who we were. Maybe they’re part of an old mindset that we need to let go of. Regardless, they’re not part of who we ARE today – which is why we will eventually work through them, rise above them, and be perfectly OK in the long run.
Making money is pretty easy. Attaining true wealth is not. Most people have jobs and bring in an income. What’s difficult is to earn it by doing something that makes a positive difference.
Being a genuinely good person, helping others, and leaving the world better than you found it is what a truly rich life is. Its warm memories endure even when money and prominence fade, and it’s filled with the only kind of wealth you can take out of this world with you.
Knowing deep down that you counted – that someone else’s life would not have been as rich without you in it – that’s priceless. That’s something worth working for.
Lost opportunities, chances you didn’t take, feelings you can never get back. That’s part of what it means to be alive. It’s frustrating when you realize you’ve missed a good opportunity. Although you can’t go back and change the past, there’s still something positive you can do. You can choose to learn from your mistake and transform your regret for this missed opportunity into enthusiasm and commitment for seizing the next good opportunity that comes your way.
You can decide to look ahead, acknowledging the importance of what you missed, but also realizing that it’s not the end of the world. There are many roads leading to everyplace worth going. Look at every exit from one opportunity as a possible entrance to another. You just have to keep your eyes wide open, looking forward in the direction of the next chance to get it right.
Holding a resentful grudge is like drinking toxic venom and waiting for the other person to grow ill. It’s an exercise in futility. And just as toxic venom is to the human body, so is resentment to the human spirit – even one tiny bit is bad for you.
Don’t magnify life’s difficulties by filling your mind with resentment. Instead, ease your burdens by choosing to let them go. If you feel resentful feelings starting to take hold, stop and consider the fact that there’s nothing to be gained by bringing yourself down over what has already happened.
Let today be the day you stop letting the ghosts of yesterday haunt you. Let today be the day you stop poisoning yourself with needless hatred. Forget about getting even with someone who hurt you, and instead get even with those who have helped you. Read The Soulmate Experience.
You have an immeasurable power within yourself to make positive changes in your life. When something is troubling you, don’t ignore it; make a commitment to change it. Don’t sit around in awe of how unhappy you are and at how unfairly life is treating you. Instead, be amazed at how swiftly and effectively you can do something about it. A positive reaction is yours to make.
Your past is unchangeable. The future depends on your decisions and actions in this moment. Right now you have power. When the world feels like it’s crumbling down around you, that’s a valuable signal. It’s your heart’s way of telling you to get going and make an overdue change. You have plenty of suitable choices if you’ll simply make an effort to discover them. Pick the best one, put it into action, and take control of your life.
Photo by: Hartwig HKD
Great post! I loved it. So strickingly true and written in such a nice and impactful way. The first five honestly blew me out of the water. As a friend just said to me after I shared your article on Facebook, “Where’s the LOVE button?”
I love your articles, especially this one. Life is so tumultuous! ~ but it’s life! 🙂
Simple explanations to a few of life’s biggest complexities. Inspiration at it’s finest. You folks always write such uplifting posts. I truly appreciate what you do.
Gordon Firemark says
What a great school assignment. I with I’d been given one thing similar at that age. These answers are insightful, inspirational, and thought-provoking.
Thanks for sharing!
Inspiring Citizen Rafi says
All the 9 lessons you have learned are real gems. What makes it even more beautiful is the fact that you have simplified it into a digestible format which makes it even more appealing.
I would like to add one more point to this..Its very simple..!
raphael lartey says
Perfectly said. Life becomes whole with this kind of thinking.
What I find fascinating is how people tend to learn the big life lessons by themselves.
Although wisdom and knowledge are easily accessible, we all make the same mistakes and learn the lessons by ourselves…
I guess this is because when you read about a life lesson someone else shares, it’s sometimes hard to internalize the learnings.
However, if you manage to do it, it’s a huge benefit…
Lately, I make a conscious effort to really learn from the experience of others.
It’s a huge privilege to have access to such resources and we should be grateful for the opportunity.
Thanks for sharing these great lessons! 🙂
Alex Blackwell | The BridgeMaker says
Inspiring post! Each word is both empowering and amazing! However, the word that resonates the most with me is Regret!
Let’s not put off our happiness, dreams or life until tomorrow – tomorrow may be too late!
“When someone loves you (…) you know your soul is safe in their care. ”
Pure poetry… and so true.
Thank you again for your words. 🙂
Matthew Palka says
Fantastic article! I love in depth homework assignments similar to this one. This sentence stood out to me: “Every smile or sign of strength hides an inner struggle every bit as complex and extraordinary as your own.”
We all have problems to deal with, so we should be helping each other and the relationship instead of creating more problems. Embracing challenges is unique to each of us and makes life interesting, while overcoming them makes life meaningful. =)
While I enjoyed this article, I think the part on love is just too sugar-coated. You’re not always going to look into your beloved’s eyes and think “gosh you’re amazing”, sometimes you want to poke them in the eye… true love is about also going beyond the romantic stuff to get on with making a relationship truly work.
Ray Davis says
Fantastic article, Marc! I think you’ve arrived at a powerful shorthand for the hero’s journey. It’s awesome that you have found your power in the struggles, many wind up giving their power away. Great stuff!
Wanda S. Maxey says
Wonderful article. I’m so glad I “stumbled,” upon your blog, and just subscribed. I’ll be back.
Sooz, those times when the love of your life makes you want to poke them in the eye? Buying a nice piece of jewelry for yourself makes everything ok again. And after 25 years of marriage, you will have a fantastic collection. My husband is amused that his moments of sheer idiocy have been transformed into something valuable. I now look forward to those eye-poking moments, but he doesn’t give them to me much anymore…wonder why?
Sandy Peckinpah says
Thank you so much for this inspiring post. The visual you gave in the segment on time was so profound I started to cry. I thought about myself at my daughter’s age of 24 and how I was newly married and had my whole life ahead of me. Then, you couldn’t have told me to savor the incredible joys I would be experiencing in the years ahead. I thought life would always be the same. Then, you couldn’t have told me I would need to develop my deepest faith to endure some of life’s greatest tragedies. Then, you couldn’t have told me that I was incredibly resilient and would find joy because of my deepest faith and the people I chose to have in my life. For me, the value of appreciating time and the ability to “marvel at the memories” is the gift you offer in your post today. Thank you so much.
It’s interesting the timing of things; a year and a half ago, a toxic marriage I was in ended and around that same time, I found your blog. Repeatedly since then, what you’ve written resonated, lifted me up and guided my on a more positive path other than the one my mind took. Today, I’ve realized how unhappy I was in that marriage, how glad I am to be out of it but also how grateful I am for the lessons it taught me. I don’t think I would be quite were I am today without the affirmations of others, including the messages of hope in your writing. Thank you for making a difference.
David Rapp says
Great Post! couple of comments
1. Time, you got SO close to nailing it! When the you walk past the park and realize that your kids are those “new” faces. You’ll stop dead in your tracks. The cycle is complete. Until you grandchildren arrive.
2. Love is elastic. You have it “all” in marriage. Then have more with you 1st child. And even more with the second child. It never stops growing unless you do. I rebuilt my whole life this year on one principle, tell the people I love that I love them. I cannot describe what agreat year I am having….for the low-low cost of phone calls.
“Forget about getting even with someone who hurt you, and instead get even with those who have helped you.” Is it okay that I quote this line elsewhere?! What a great way to move forward.
[email protected] says
Beautiful insight and writing, Marc! Thanks for this.
Thanks for yet another inspiring and though-provoking post. The words that jumped out at me today were from Resentment.
“Forget about getting even with someone who hurt you, and instead get even with those who have helped you.”
I spent many years when I was much younger learning not to drink the toxin every day, but this goes beyond what-not-to-do and brings us to what-to-do.
That’s the most amazing way to put it. I love this.
Great one! Do you guys have an app? I’d love to read your blog on my phone. Thanks.
Waqas Mugheera Iqbal says
Marc and Angel… You both are doing great job. Your posts are superb. 🙂
@Gord: And you only get one life to live, so it’s wise to make it count. =)
@Cornelius: Great advice, but it’s often hard to digest the lesson learned without having gone through it yourself. We should all try to make a conscious effort to learn from the mistakes and experiences of others. Thank you for the input.
@sooz: I agree, it can’t always be sugar coated, but it can be sometimes. We’ve written about the hard times in relationships many times before (here for instance: 15 Relationship Truths for Tough Times). This time I decided to get a little mushy.
@BB: Thanks BB. I couldn’t agree more. Sometimes we need these little romantic reminders.
@Angela: It’s sounds like you’ve found a prolific loophole. 😉
@Stephen: So glad we we’re able to inspire you when you needed it most. Stay strong my friend.
@Sandy: It’s like the saying, “We often don’t appreciate the true value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” And, it’s an incredible feeling to see how far we have come. Thank you for sharing your story.
@David Rapp: Great addition to the conversation, as always. =)
@BRC: Of course! Imagine if we all lived by this line? =)
@Chelsie: No app just yet, but the blog does look good on the iPhone using the ‘Reader’ function in Safari.
@All: Thank you for sharing your definitions and experiences of these words. Honestly, when you leave us a comment, you brighten our day.
Shelly Miller says
Beautiful post Marc.
Number 1, time, gave me a visual of kindergarten, in Texas, and all the things I thought were possible.
I remember thinking that if I tried hard enough I could fly by launching off the swing set. I spent a lot of time trying and convinced myself I was flying at one point 🙂
This is a great point to remind myself that spending time doing something I really want to do is magical and time well spent.
Nate Anglin says
What’s great about these 9 lessons is that they mold us. Some may get side tracked and confused on how to deal with one or a few but life teaches us to cope, learn and adapt. It can be a long, tough road but the great part of life is the ability to overcome and achieve through adversity. We all go through these lessons, it’s who learns from the that comes out on top.
I really enjoy your blog. I would like to share some new ideas with you for posts, etc. Please guide me, what’s the best way to contact you?
Truly marvelous… I never thought that life could be so simple when we leave out the resentment within us. And also a wonderful statement which states: “showing anger yo somebody is like you drinking the poison and waiting for the other person to die.” Hats off!!
Trang Phung says
I love this post, along with many others on this site. Appreciate all the wisdom and genuine intention to help people living with peace and dignity.
@Shelly Miller: I used to do the same thing. Flying from the swing set… Oh, we were so close it seemed. =) Thanks for sharing.
@Nate Anglin: You got it. As long as you commit to yourself to learning, problems are progress.
@Edward: you can reach me at: marc [at] http://www.marcandangel.com
@Ashok and Trang: Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks for stopping by.
Akshay Nanavati says
Wow Marc!!! I love everything on your site and your outlook. It really stands out from the millions of sites out there. The way you summed up life in 9 words is outstanding! The ability to simplify things and create a teachable framework is the sign of a true master at their art, which in this case is living itself. I’m curious about one lesson specifically, I used to have some of these myself, but have now managed to re-frame them to see the positive and the lesson as you recommend, what is one of your regrets and how have you found the positive? If you don’t mind sharing of course. To be transparent myself, one of mine is how I wasted a year and a half of my life on drugs in my younger days, and now I see if I didn’t I wouldn’t have joined the Marines, and I am glad I did it, so life works itself out 🙂
Really great posts, Marc and Angel. Like many of your followers, I am also going through a tough time and your messages are really uplifting and reminds me of what is important – especially when the sadness hits out of nowhere.
Davis Nguyen says
This is such a beautiful list of lessons. I wonder what you would add that life has taught you about happiness?
Wow amazing post! So beautiful and true. This is life, a lovely and unique journey for us all! Thank you