I don't want this to read as a list of regrets. Really a more positive take is that I'm hoping these 38 life lessons can help others!
1. Don't Waste So Much Time
Speaking of regrets, this is my biggest one. I wish I had spent more time on languages, musical instruments, and generally applying myself than on wasting time with friends, watching TV, etc. Life is short. Use your time wisely. You'll have less time when you start working, and even less for quite a while if you have children!
Otherwise you will keep making them. Look for the lesson in everything and try to do better next time. That said, your past was a learning experience, not a life sentence. So learn what you need to, but don't beat yourself up because you can't change it now anyway.
3. Better Yet, Learn From Other People's Mistakes
It's so much easier to do that then to have to learn everything yourself the hard way by screwing things up.
4. Take Care of Your Physical Health
The earlier the better. I started eating right around age 23 and I have enjoyed better health ever since. Certainly your health is somewhat outside of your control, but the more you take care of your body, the better you are likely to feel. Be active, but you don't need to overdo it either. Walking, hiking, gardening, these will keep you fit.
5. Be a Contrarian
I have to say I am a bit of a contrarian and it has always served me well. I'm not contrary just to be contrary, and I do like certain things that are popular. But being a contrarian is enriching in that you end up discovering all kinds of interesting and obscure things that not everyone else knows about. It makes you a better conversationalist and well-rounded person.
6. Don't Follow the Groupthink Heard
Learn critical thinking skills and think for yourself. One of humanities' worst qualities is that we are a programmable species. Add in some cognitive biases, and the fact that we derive a lot of our self worth from other people's approval, and you have situation where many people just go along to get along. Don't be like that. Dig deeper. Look for the truth even if it is disturbing or it differs from what you have been taught.
7. Take Morality Seriously
This is a big one! If everybody did this, the world could be so much better than it is now. But don't just confuse ethics with politics. Morality has just as much, if not more, to do with an inward focus on becoming a virtuous person yourself, not trying to have the world conform to your value system. You can't really help anyone until you do this anyway, you'll just screw things up.
8. Things Often Take Longer Than You Think They Will
This is actually one of the fundamental principles from the excellent book Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. (People get themselves into trouble in the wilderness by underestimating how long it will take to get somewhere and back.) This is true in life generally too. Don't try to do too much, and leave sufficient time. If things take less time, then be pleasantly surprised, but leave room for the unexpected when you plan. Then you won't have to rush around either.
9. Don't Procrastinate
On the same token, stop procrastinating. I often procrastinate and then regret it. I find that something else will come up making the task harder to accomplish later on, like illness, other commitments and so forth.
10. Keep a Journal
As the saying goes, keep a diary, and one day it will keep you. I have journaled consistently for 26 years and it's one of things I think I've done right. A journal will keep you from forgetting certain things, and you can see how you have grown and changed.
11. Be Willing to Change Your Mind
I have changed my mind on all kinds of important issues based on new or more persuasive information. This isn't a problem for me because my reasoning and my identity are separate. Thinking is fundamentally driven by questions anyway, not by thinking you already have all of the answers.
12. Never Stop Reading and Learning
"Employ your time in improving yourself by other men's writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for." (Attributed to Socrates)
13. It's Easier to be Negative
But try not to fall into that trap, it's self-perpetuating. We often have to work harder to focus on the positive rather than the negative.
14. Don't Complain All the Time
“Everything that happens is either endurable or not. If it’s endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining. If it’s unendurable … then stop complaining." - Marcus Aurelius
15. Don't Gossip
Gossip makes you look bad and untrustworthy. If someone gossips with you, they will gossip about you. Count on it.
16. Don't Reveal Too Much About Your Personal Life
On social media, to people you aren't that close with, and especially at work. Privacy is important and undervalued in a culture where people "share," everything. I've seen people not be rehired for a job because the supervisor was afraid their crazy family would show up at work. Yes I know that's not a legitimate reason, but people will latch onto all kinds of things about you. The less they know about the intimate details of your life, the better.
17. Don't Put Yourself in Risky Situations
I'm talking about with respect to your physical safety. Being out late, driving too fast, trusting people don't know well, and so forth. Don't hike by yourself in isolated areas, and take extra provisions in case you get lost. Don't assume that everybody is good or that you might never have to defend yourself. Be especially cautious travelling in foreign cultures. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
18. That Said, Don't Be Afraid to Take Appropriate Risks
Appropriate risks might entail things like international travel, starting a business and so on. I think I'm pretty risk averse, but even I have done those two things.
19. Don't Be Afraid to Fail
There is no ruthless dichotomy of failure versus success. That's a lie that culture tells us. You learn from "failures," and the road to "success," is often winding. Effort never dies. And anyway, success should be defined more in terms of virtue and less in terms of material prosperity.
20. Be Grateful For What You Have
This is pretty much the antidote to complaining and negativity that I wrote about earlier. Gratitude is a learned skill, but once mastered, it can keep you happy. You can train yourself to feel grateful for things that you typically take for granted like your good health, your ability to walk, having a roof over your head and etc. This practice leads to more happiness, rather than a life of envy based on comparison with others.
21. Prioritize the Life of the Mind
Ideas, books, and thinking about important subjects can fulfill you for an entire lifetime! I feel so badly for people who haven't been exposed to or sought out these things, and have nothing to think about except for money, sports, pop music, and boring decadent culture.
22. Serving Others is More Rewarding Than Serving Yourself
This is a hard one to learn isn't it? I think I learned it best from having children. Now, pretty much 90 percent of what I do is serve my husband and family, and 10 percent has to do with my own needs. But it's much more enriching than a life of hedonistic pleasures even if it involves a lot of sacrifice.
23. The Happiness of Life is Made up of Little Things
A child's smile, the most beautiful movement of a symphony, the afternoon sunlight falling through the window. There is beauty everywhere. Cherish it.
24. Don't Compare Yourself to Others
It is guaranteed to make you unhappy. Other people have different strengths than you have. Compare yourself to how you used to be and seek growth, even if your progress is slow.
25. It's Never Too Late to Change Something
Whatever it is that you are unhappy with, your diet, your character flaws, your job - you can take steps to change it if you can summon the necessary will power. Its not always easy though.
26. Get Your Temper Under Control
Both sides of my family are loud and occasionally angry people. Consequently, I used to have a somewhat fiery temper, and boy could I have saved myself some hassle by getting it under control sooner. Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.
27. Learn to Resolve Conflicts Constructively
This goes right along with number 26. Discussing things calmly and looking for win-win solutions is key. Getting angry is pointless because emotions alone don't solve problems. Thinking solves problems.
28. Prioritize Travel When You are Young
You may not have the time, the freedom, or the good health to do it later. Or you may not have the desire. The older I get the less travel becomes a priority. There are a few places I would still like to go, but I am much more content now wherever I am, I don't need to be gallivanting all over the globe. That said, I'm glad for the enriching experiences I had travelling when I was younger.
29. Be Happy With Small Improvements
The Stoic philosopher Seneca has a great quote about being OK with gradual self improvement: "And so demand of me, not that I should be equal to the best, but that I should be better than the wicked: I am satisfied if each day I make some reduction in the number of my vices and find fault with my mistakes."
30. Keep Company With People Who Uplift You
This goes along with number 7, taking ethics seriously. If your friends are shallow or even worse, don't have the greatest morals, it will drag you down too. If it's you that has the poor morals (and I have been there myself occasionally), then get yourself together my friend!
31. Try to Live in the Present
I admittedly suck at this one, yet I totally see the value in it. I'm always hearing Yoda's voice from The Empire Strikes Back saying, "All his life as he looked away, to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing." Some wise advice from Star Wars.
32. Build Your Own Culture
If you don't consciously build your own meaningful culture in your life, it will be determined for you by dominant personalities, media, propaganda, peers, advertising, and all kinds of other capricious influences who have no business being in your head and determining your preferences and actions. If you want to be happier, cut out expressions of culture that sabotage your happiness and personal growth, and deliberately create your own culture of beauty and meaning based on your values, rather than on other peoples'.
33. Pick the Right Person to Marry
Nothing can screw up your life faster than a bad marriage! Admittedly there is a bit of luck involved here. I thank God everyday for my husband and my marriage. But there is a lot that you can do to ensure that you marry the right person. Don't rush into it. Make sure your partner has a good character and similar values. And be willing to keep working hard on your making marriage stronger!
34. It's OK to Be Sensitive
This is something I struggled with until I learned about sensory processing sensitivity. Brain scans have shown that basically, 1 in 5 people process sensory information in a more sensitive way than others do. This makes them especially prone to stress. It can also be a good thing though because they are also more empathetic. Just make sure to take steps to reduce stress in your life.
35. Fake it Till You Make It
This may sound inauthentic, but it doesn't have to be. By forcing yourself to act as though you had more confidence, courage, etc. you will learn how to be more confident or more brave through those experiences.
36. Life Won't Always Be Easy
You need to expect this and to have coping skills in place for when the going get tough. I wish I had been taught this directly when I was younger. I'm still thinking about how best to teach this to my own children. Stoic philosophy can be helpful for hard times, but it's not a panacea.
37. Trust Your Intuition
Intuition is underrated. Listen if you have a bad gut feeling about a situation or person. Or listen if you have a good feeling.
38. Be Kind to Yourself
There are times in life that you will feel like quitting. Be kind to yourself, and just be content if the smallest thing goes well. You have survived 100% of your worst days up to this point. You are probably more competent than you imagine.
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