35 Lessons Learned in 35 Years

It's an odd quirk of life that the older you get, the less you feel like you know. A decade ago, you wouldn't have been able to convince me that I wasn't as smart as I thought I was, but now you'd have a hard time convincing me of the opposite. I am officially 35 years old, which to some may seem like a lifetime, but to others—the wisest of us all—it's hardly the blink of an eye.

In the last three and a half decades of my life, I've learned a lot of things, but the most valuable lessons have been the ones that taught me how to be a better version of myself. Learning how to take care of my body and my mind is an ongoing pursuit; one in which there is no final destination.

So, in reflection of a life-in-progress, I wanted to take some time and write down a few things I've learned so far. Some of these lessons are obvious, while others are so specific as to be useless to anyone but me. I hope that you find some value in this list, but even if not, I encourage you to make your own. After all, unless you write it down, how can you truly reflect on it?

  1. Breathe. There are very few things in life that are so urgent that you can't take a moment to take a deep breath and center yourself.
  2. Slow down. Hyper-connectivity. 24 hour news. Alerts, alarms, and notifications. Life wasn't meant to move this fast. Take your time, the world can wait.
  3. Learn in public. There's nothing more inspiring than watching somebody learn, so return the favor. Share what you learn, you never know who might need it.
  4. Fail. Constantly. If you're not failing, you're not learning. Get comfortable with failure. Embrace it. You'll never get better if you never fail.
  5. Most choices are recoverable. On a scale from Ctrl+Z to Dead, most decisions you make can are "undoable". Don't agonize over something you can fix.
  6. Say "no". Everything you say "yes" to is unintentionally saying "no" to something else, so you might as well be more deliberate in your commitments.
  7. It's okay to say "no" to a money making opportunity. Prioritize meaning over money, even if it means foregoing some luxuries. A hard-won lesson, to be sure.
  8. Sit up straight. Good posture isn't about manners, it's about caring for the only body you will ever have.
  9. Stand. Standing desks suck, but they promote much better posture and make you move around more frequently.
  10. Move. Doesn't have to be much, but it can't be nil. Ride a bike, go for a walk, take the stairs. Do something with your body.
  11. Quit. Seriously. Whether it's a book, a project, or a job, it's okay to quit something that isn't giving your life any value.
  12. Listen. You've got more ears than mouths. Shut the hell up for once.
  13. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good. You're not building a rocket ship (probably), so accept that "good enough" is "good enough." You can always improve upon it later.
  14. Keep perspective. As Greg McKeown wrote, "you cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything." Most things don't matter. Try to focus on what does.
  15. It's okay to say "I don't know." The list of things you actually do know isn't all that long to begin with. Be honest and you might actually learn something.
  16. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. There's nothing wrong with pragmatism, but nobody likes a pessimist. Get your ducks in order, and then cross your fingers it won't be that bad.
  17. Quality is worth paying for. One high quality last longer and ultimately costs less than three shitty ones.
  18. Drink water. No matter how much you are drinking, it probably isn't enough.
  19. Skip breakfast. You weren't eating anything healthy for it anyway.
  20. Disconnect. Mankind got by just fine before it invented the internet. Shut off the computer, put down the phone, and take the time to simply exist.
  21. Success is subjective. Don't let anyone ever tell you what your definition of success should be.
  22. Journal. Remember that writing is thinking. Putting your thoughts down on paper helps clarify and organize them.
  23. Meditate. Sit in silence for 10 minutes. Eyes closed, back straight, breathe through your nose, and just be.
  24. Don't should all over the place. It doesn't matter what you should have done. All that matters is what you did, and what you are going to do next time.
  25. If one person doesn't own a task, nobody does. Ownership is a singular activity. "We" can't own something.
  26. Decide and commit. Once you make a decision, don't re-litigate it. Commit. If circumstances change, then you can always make a new one.
  27. Embrace solitude. It's okay to be alone. Embrace it. You might just learn something about yourself.
  28. Pick a "get out of bed" time. This isn't an alarm, it's a commitment. If you are awake at a certain time, then get out of bed, because going back to sleep now will probably wreck the day.
  29. Don't panic. Get your shit together. Nothing good has ever come from panicking.
  30. Shit or get off the pot. Don't waste time hoping for something to happen. Make it happen or move on.
  31. "Stop whining!" — Arnold Schwarzenegger. Complaining begets more complaining. It won't change anything, and it won't make you feel better, so shut up and act.
  32. Put a salad on your sandwich. You're not eating enough veggies anyway.
  33. Do one thing mindfully every day. Doesn't matter if it's the dishes, playing with the kids, or work. Pick something every day and devote your entire focus on it, even if just for 20 minutes.
  34. Read. More. Books are the best way to learn new things, gain new perspectives, and converse with the greatest minds that ever lived. No matter how much you are reading, it's not enough.
  35. Reflect. How can you know where you're going if you don't know where you've been?


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