Two days ago I turned 30. That means my twenties are officially over.
I’m not sure how I feel about that. I’m not one of those people who awaited this birthday in dread, thinking that now I’m officially “old”. I don’t feel old. Physically and mentally I am probably in one of the best shapes of my life.
I also have many things to be grateful for:
I have a great family who has always been there for me, a wonderful, smart and supportive girlfriend and there are people allover the world who I can call my friends,
I live abroad in one of the most interesting cities on the planet and regularly get to travel to other countries.
I live the life of a web entrepreneur, can set my own schedule, pursue projects that interest me, and indulge in creative work.
Besides that I have food to eat, clothes on my back, a place to sleep and don’t wake up in the morning fearing for my life and safety. That is more than many people can say.
So is my life all puppies and sunshine?
But I don’t want to pretend like this birthday doesn’t have any significance to me at all. As it drew closer, I found myself reflecting more about where I am in life, the path that I have taken, and where I am going.
I once heard that at this point people fall into two groups: those who have figured their life out and those who haven’t. I don’t know if that is an actual rule, but if it is I guess I fall somewhere in the middle.
I have a very solid idea about what I want to do in life (something that wasn’t always the case), but on the other hand I guess I thought I would be a few more steps down the line by now.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Nor is it a good thing. I guess it’s just a thing. It’s where I am at this moment and no amount of wishing otherwise or stomping my foot in frustration could change it. The only thing there is to do is to keep moving forward in the direction I have chosen.
Wisdom of the aged
However, it is equally important to take some time and reflect upon what is lying behind me. After all, what better teacher is there than the past? So I sat down and thought about the most important lessons I have learned in my life so far. Here are 30 of them in no particular order:
- The only person you can change is yourself – When we want something in our lives to be different, most of us have a tendency to seek the responsibility in external things and try to change everything and everyone around us except for ourselves. This is a losing game. If you try to change others, they will resist. The only thing you really have control over is your own thoughts, behaviors and actions. Start there.
- Don’t wait for other people’s permission – Everyone around you is caught up in their own game. Many of them fear change. You can not wait for other people to allow you to be different. You can only be different. The others will adjust in time. Explain your reasons and ask for forgiveness if necessary, but not for permission.
- Most pain comes from resisting what is – Often we will think in terms of what “should” be, not in terms of what is. I struggled with this for a long time. The discrepancy between reality and our imagined ideal creates internal conflict and emotional pain. Accept your current situation. It is what it is. Take steps to change it if it’s not what you want. But acceptance comes first.
- The only way to deal with fear is to face it – Running from the things you are afraid of will make your life smaller and smaller. Avoidance is not a solution. You fears will crumble if you face them directly. On the other side of them await victory and confidence.
- Change consists of many small steps and decisions – There probably won’t be a moment when conditions are suddenly perfect and you effortlessly turn your life around 180 degrees. Waiting for this day is just a way of putting things off and procrastinating. Change is a daily practice. Small decisions accumulate over time until they reach a critical mass.
- Most health problems can be solved by diet change, exercise, and sleep – The majority of the health issues which we are facing as a people can be resolved by changing eating habits, moving more, and getting decent amounts of sleep. This is what our bodies were built for, not fancy pills or wonder drugs which often only mask symptoms.
- Diet is 80 percent – In the pursuit of health and fitness goals, training is only 20 percent of the equation. You can lose many pounds without exercising at all merely by changing what you eat. On the other hand you can not outrun or outlift a crappy diet.
- Willpower is unreliable – Willpower is a very fickle form of energy and easily depleted. Success is a matter of building systems, changing habits and setting up your environment in a way that pushes you toward your goals.
- Nothing gets done unless it has a deadline – There is no “some day” or “when I get to it”. Tasks expand in complexity according to the amount of time available to finish them. If you don’t set a deadline to get something done, it is highly unlikely that you will.
- There is no such thing as “dieting” – Eating crappy year-round will not be alleviated by two weeks of cabbage soup. You don’t need a diet, you need long-term, sustainable changes in your everyday diet so that healthy is the new normal and unhealthy the exception. Not the other way around.
- Start now and figure it out along the way – Research and preparation can just be another way of putting things off. You will never have “all the information”. Start immediately and deal with things as they come along. Clarity comes from engagement, not thought (thanks to Marie Forleo and Chris Guillebeau for this)
- Start small – Most goals, resolutions and undertakings fail because they are overly ambitious, want too much too soon and thereby become overwhelming. Start small. Establish a habit. Scale up later.
- Perfectionism is the devil – This is a big one for me personally and a trap I repeatedly fall into. The attempt to make things perfect is a huge driver of unhappiness and the bane of creatives everywhere. Striving for perfection is the enemy of greatness and a perverted form of procrastination.
- Learn to live with ambiguity – Life is messy. There are thousands of things that can go wrong and that we can not control. You can either try to resist and fight or learn to adapt and be at peace with imperfection.
- Reality is a matter of perspective – There is no such thing as “the reality”. Each of us perceives our surroundings according to our own set of filters, knowledge and experiences. And perception can be changed.
- Value experience over things – The emotional half life of material things is very short. Buyer’s remorse sets in quickly. Knowledge, skills, experience, and times spend with other people are far more valuable.
- Have little but of high quality – For the things that you do own, invest in high quality so you get value out of them for a long time.
- The goal is reduction, not addition – Whether in business, work, life, art, or fitness, always aim to do more with less. Simple beats complicated.
- Life is not black and white – Most things fall somewhere on a scale of gray. Static denominations such as good/bad/right/wrong are imprecise, vague and encourage us to compare, judge, and narrow our perspective.
- The internet is the most amazing tool and information source we have – All of humanity’s knowledge at the tip of your fingers. Within seconds!
- The internet is the most attention-draining and mentally detrimental device we have – All the noise and gossip of the world at the tip of your fingers. Within seconds!
- If you want to get to know yourself, start a business or get into a relationship – Both will shine a light upon your character and magnify everything that is usually hidden to you. Your fears, strengths, insecurities, beliefs, and excuses will all become obvious. That is a good thing (though it might not always feel like it).
- The only person you are in competition with is yourself – Constantly comparing your own life to the life of others is a surefire way to unhappiness. You will always be able to find someone better than you. Start from where you are and compete with yourself. Aim to be a little better today than you were yesterday.
- The things that are most worth doing are often the hardest – Changing habits, getting in shape, eating well, being disciplined, going for what you want and believe in – these things are friggin’ hard. Life will get in the way and try to distract you. If it was easy, everyone would do it. Stick with it, it’s worth it in the end.
- Take responsibility – Blaming circumstance or exterior factors is just a way of absolving ourselves from responsibility and justifying doing nothing. Whatever you do, whatever happens in your life, take responsibility.
- Your limits are what you believe they are – Limitations are what you tell yourself you can or can not do. They are merely the edge of the space you are used to operating in. If you cross over them once, they cease to exist.
- Read – Reading gives you access to other people’s brains. It is one of the best ways to bring new ideas into your life, introduce additional perspectives, and different lines of thinking.
- Observe and understand instead of judging – Constantly passing judgment on everyone and everything around us in terms of good or bad, right or wrong creates a lot of conflict. Aim at understanding instead of jumping to conclusions.
- You can learn anything – Given the right input, method, and material, most people can learn and do amazing things. But we often don’t even try because we tell ourselves we aren’t “good” at it. You will never be good at anything if you don’t start. Remember, there was a time when you couldn’t talk or ride a bike either.
- Practice gratitude – Being grateful is one of best ways to banish worry about the future. Postponing satisfaction to some undetermined later point in time negates happiness in the here and now. Be thankful for what you already have, appreciate the people around you and where you are in life.
If you are reading this, I want to say thank you. You being here really means a lot to me. I hope what you find on this blog is somehow helping you in your pursuit of living life in a way that makes you happy and fulfilled. I would love to hear from you so feel free to drop me a line if you have any question or just want to say hi. To the next 30 years.
Which are some of the biggest lessons you have learned in your life? Do you agree or disagree with my list? Tell me in the comments.