Some things you just have to learn yourself.
I’ve never considered myself “wise,” and I still don’t. Smart, sure — mainly because my parents constantly told me that I was, and because school was easy for me. (Probably just a result of believing I was smart. Thanks, Mom and Dad.)
But not wise. That’s not something parents can really teach, or that you can even be when you’re young.
So to dispense anything resembling wisdom is uncomfortable, and that’s exactly why I’m writing this post.
I was going to write a “normal” NMA post today. But at the last minute I read this ass-kicking piece of brilliance by my friend Johnny B. Truant, and I decided life was too short for that — I wanted to write something that when I hit “Publish,” and sent out into the world, would put just a few more butterflies in my stomach than usual.
So here goes nothing. The thirty most important things I’ve learned since I’ve been on my own, most of them in just the past year or two, a period in which I’ve grown more than any other time I can remember.
- Do uncomfortable things. If you’re not just a little bit fearful when you decide to do something epic, or when you share your work with the world, then it’s probably boring and it probably sucks. If you do things where you can’t possibly fail and you won’t be criticized, then believe me, nobody will care about what you’re doing.
- Nothing will make you happy for very long except growing. You can set goals and go get them, but once you do, there’s a void, and you’re back to square one. Embrace the fact that the fun is in the quest, not the achievement itself. Or just kill goals entirely.
- Preparing is so much easier and less important than doing. Things like practicing, reading, and learning quickly become excuses to put off taking a risk. Jump in. And don’t read any book that you’re not going to use right away, unless it’s for pleasure (thanks for this one, Tim Ferriss).
- If you’re nice to people, you help them out, and you don’t expect anything in return, they will notice you, like you, and want to help you out. You’d be shocked at who you can make friends with this way.
- Reward yourself when you do something good. If you achieve something great or do something you’re proud of, what message are you sending yourself if you don’t celebrate it?
- Experiences are worth so much more than things. And stopping to take pictures sometimes ruins experiences.
- When you do buy things, buy things that are going to give you more time or money, not things that will become liabilities to suck them up.
- It’s so much easier to stay in shape than to get in shape. Same goes for eating well. Once you’re in a good rhythm, do things that will make it very hard to get out of that rhythm — like getting a partner so that when you’re not feeling it, they are, and vice versa.
- If you want people to read your emails, be as brief as possible. Five sentences is a perfect guideline. The same goes for talking, if you want people to listen.
- Buying something is never the solution to getting yourself to be more disciplined. I learned this when I made my first big credit card purchase, a $500 guitar that I just knew would make me practice. Think it did?
- Don’t hold on to things that you “might use someday.” A lack of clutter in your life is worth so much more, in terms of mental clarity, focus, and calm than the cost of buying that thing again, should the need actually arise for it (which it probably won’t).
- If you want to have more money, give money away to people and causes that you care about. It makes you view yourself as someone who has abundance, and that helps you see the opportunities that are right in front of you. Nobody listens to this one (including me for the longest time), but it’s true.
- You can save so much time and energy by learning from other people who have already mastered what you want to do.
- Procrastination is so incredibly dangerous and it will ruin your life if you let it. I don’t mean waiting until the night before the deadline — I mean putting off things that have no deadline. Telling someone that you love them, getting in shape, starting that business, seeing the world, doing that hobby you’ve always wanted to do. Nobody is going to yell at you for not making these things happen by a certain date. It’s up to you.
- Being criticized or failing will always sting, but they will sting exponentially less every time they happen. So get those initial ones over with. Eventually, you will stop caring and view failure and criticism as a signs that you’re doing something that matters.
- Being shy (which I am, and will probably always be at the core) is not a valid excuse for choosing not to help someone who needs it.
- You are terrible at estimating how long a project will take you, and you will almost always underestimate it. Realize this and adjust the estimate you give people (rest assured, it’ll still be too short).
- This is your life. It’s not a rehearsal. Having kids helps you to see this, when you realize that they’re seeing you the way you saw your parents, and seeing their house and life the way you saw yours when you were little. That time is gone for you, and one day it will be for them, and they’ll be thinking this about their own kids.
- Gatekeepers have no power anymore. If you have something to share with the world, you can now get people to see it, completely for free, without having to first get the stamp of approval from anyone. Nobody has any idea what’s good until you put it out there anyway.
- Don’t let little decisions take up time and create stress in your brain. Trusting your gut is one of the most reliable ways to know what’s right. Make the decision and be done with it. Sure, you can ask someone else what they think, but will that really help, or just give you an excuse to put off deciding?
- Have a single place where you can write down every idea you have, and every last thing you have to do and want to do. Even if it never gets done, it’s a tremendous reliever of stress to know it’s all in one place.
- The first time you try to quit something or make a big change is the easiest. You have the optimism and naive certainty that “this is it,” which you can never get back once you’ve failed. Before you give up that first time, keep in mind that it will always be harder to change than it is right now.
- Being talented isn’t very important, nor is it fulfilling. Lack of talent is nothing but a very convenient excuse. People achieve things by working hard at them, taking lots of small risks, and learning from the results. And that’s way more interesting than just being “gifted.”
- Everything you do becomes part of you forever, even if nobody is watching.
- In those rare times when you are extremely motivated to make a change, put systems in place that will make it difficult for you NOT to change, because there will be times (soon!) when you aren’t nearly so motivated.
- You can learn to not need TV, talk radio, or other noise in the background while you do things. It’s hard at first, but it doesn’t take long to start seeing it as the distraction it is.
- We have a need to work and move, but technology makes it so that we don’t have to do these things anymore. In the moment, it’s easier to microwave a dinner than to cook it yourself. It’s easier to sit on the couch than to go for a walk or run. And it’s easier to be passively entertained than to engage your mind. And this is why people in other parts of the world, who seemingly have nothing and have to work so hard, are happier than we are.
- People fallaciously believe they will have far more time in the future than they do today. The perfect time to start isn’t going to come. In fact, it was probably yesterday.
- Life is way too short to finish any book you’re not enjoying. Let go. You don’t get points for finishing books.
- No matter how you resist or deny it, you are getting older. Time will go by at a faster and faster pace (at least from your perspective), and soon you’ll wake up and be 80 years old, if you’re very lucky. And then one day you’ll die, and the world will go on. Every minute you spend doing anything is a minute you will never, ever get back. So spend it like you mean it.
Better get started.
P.S. I owe you a ChiRunning DVD winner. That winner is Bess, who is running her first ultra in a few weeks! Congratulations, and thanks to ChiRunning for doing the giveaway!