30 Lessons My Parents Didn’t Teach Me

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. 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.
  5. 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?
  6. Experiences are worth so much more than things.  And stopping to take pictures sometimes ruins experiences.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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?
  11. 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).
  12. 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.
  13. You can save so much time and energy by learning from other people who have already mastered what you want to do.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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).
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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?
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.”
  24. Everything you do becomes part of you forever, even if nobody is watching.
  25. 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.
  26. 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.
  27. 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.
  28. 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.
  29. Life is way too short to finish any book you’re not enjoying.  Let go.  You don’t get points for finishing books.
  30. 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!



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  1. I like this one…

    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.

    ….considering a new pair of running shoes, which could lead to registering for a race, then buying new tech shirts and shorts, then registering for another race, and then buying more shoes. 😉

    But I do agree with you overall.

  2. Awesome post, Matt!! Thanks!

  3. Maureen says:

    Fantastic post, Matt! I’ve learned a lot of these same lessons, myself, over the past few years, but it really helps to read them, for reinforcement!

  4. 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.

    I totally had this attitude all throughout school, like my life would totally just suck and lack everything until I finished. But thinking back, I did do a lot when I was in school and am thankful that I made time for all those things. And no, just because I came out of it doesn’t mean everything is perfect or all is in place. Not even close.

  5. Elizabeth says:

    “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.””

    I love this one. I’ve come to realize recently that I lack a lot of talents but that shouldn’t keep me from trying (versus in the past saying “I don’t have this natural ability. Screw it!). Love this post!

  6. WOW! This is powerful! I love all you say- except the second sentence in number 6. :-/

    • …until you’re so busy fumbling for your camera that you miss the moment and are left with disappointment and regret having missed both the experience AND the opportunity to capture it. Great photos are like great experiences – they happen by luck, when you least expect them, or with a lot of hard work. Let thy brain be thy film and your stories your prints.

  7. Great post! I found myself shaking my head, “yes” to all 30 of them, and even though I’m learning those lessons too, I quickly forget about some of them, so it’s nice to be reminded!

  8. Great list. I need to take #16 to heart and #18 is so, so true! #6 though… who says you need to stop to take the pictures? Candids in the moment bring me so much happiness that I would, in a way, forget the moment if I hadn’t taken those pictures.

  9. Heather says:

    This is a very enlightening and motivating post. Thanks for sharing.

  10. I too, read JBT’s recent post and was blown away. Awesome to see you transfer the energy of his post to your own. . .

    Oddly enough number 17 on your list stood out to me the most. I’ve seen project after project, whether it’s an ebook or clearing out the crap from my house, take twice as long as I anticipated. It’s better to accept that you often underestimate the time required than get frustrated that you didn’t meet a “deadline”.

    But I think number 2 was the deepest for me. So true that you have to keep growing and the joy is in the journey.

    Thanks for a great list, Matt.

  11. This list is so great! Very inspirational and true. And I agree with #6 .. stopping to take pictures takes me out of the present moment. They’re nice to look back on, but remembering to take them is like a job!

  12. Great list! Cannot agree more with everything you listed here.


  13. Josephine says:

    Great post. For a long time, I have thought that it is easier to stay in shape than to get in shape. With that first half-marathon under my belt, I am a testament that one does not need talent to achieve great things – just lots of work!

  14. Wow, this was an AWESOME post. Simple, well-put and powerful. And yeah a lot of these things, we’ve learned before but just haven’t accepted…so it’s good to be able to read them. I for one really needed this today, so thank you.

  15. My favorite post you’ve written!

  16. Maureen says:

    FWIW – I totally agree with number 6.

  17. #29 is so hard for me!

    Great post. Thanks.

  18. Dude. Solid post here. I could comment of most all of these, this stuff really resonates. This is the right time in your life, with the right audience to hear it, to be letting this out. I hope this becomes your most-read post.

    #24 and #30 challenge me. It’s enough to challenge me to nuke Facebook altogether.

  19. Great list, thanks! Agreed on #29 too. 🙂

  20. Dani Cothern says:

    Wow. Awesome, perfectly-timed post.

  21. This post was linked to on a friend’s blog, and I’m so glad that I found it! I’ve never read your blog before, but I’ll be back- and Thanks for this post. It’s just what I needed!

  22. I could comment on half of these specifically, how relevant and helpful they are. Suffice it to say, this is as useful a post as I’ve read.

  23. Amazing post. A lot of these hit home, especially holding onto STUFF. I’ve been on a mad cleaning spree the last few weeks and all of the above just reinforced my beliefs that I don’t need clutter in my life.

  24. running farmer says:

    #14 rocks, now if you could just explain #20 in detail to my wife…

  25. I’m printing copies for myself and my two teenagers. Thank you for your continued advice and support!

  26. Elizabeth Eaton says:

    THANKS for a great list! I’m older, so I have adopted some of these tips, but I just realized the importance of #21. I’m on vacation, without a camera, of course – kind of like running a race without ear buds. 🙂

    • I love that! I actually did listen to earbuds during my last race — the 50K that took me over 7 hours. I think it was about the 4th hour when I realized what a long day it would be and put on the iPod just to help pass the next hour. It was miserable.

  27. Reading this helped me recommit to my plan to take a year off from my desk job for an adventure around the world.

    Thank you.

  28. “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.”

    So, so true. Thanks for stepping out of your comfort zone and sharing this list with us.

  29. Jon Weisblatt says:

    Well Matt,
    looks like you’ve equaled if not surpassed Susan Lacke’s most recent post as the best I’ve ever read on your site.
    Add one to the mix if I may: If you’ve had an argument with your spouse/significant other, never go to bed angry.

    • Haha, thanks Jon. I chuckled when you wrote “sorry Matt” on Susan’s last post… I am, of course, thrilled to have someone else writing great stuff that I couldn’t write. 🙂 And good advice. I think I’m good at that one, only because I can’t stand awkwardness!

  30. Every once in awhile one of your posts makes me cry. This one really hit home. Thanks. My favs:

    #1- I swam a 5K swim this past sunday never having gone more than 4,000 yards. It scared the living crap out of me but I made it and learned more about myself in that 2 hours and 25 minutes than I thought possible. It changed my life forever.

    #24- Wow. Never thought about life that way and now that I do, I’ll be much more careful in how I choose to live it. Thanks. I needed that slap in my face.

    • Congrats on your swim, Patti! I can’t imagine going that far in the water… the most I’ve ever done is 8 consecutive laps in a pool, I think. 🙂 Amazing.

  31. Came across your blog and I really like it. You have some really great advice and you have some great achievements!!

    Take Care,


  32. Wow, this was deep. I certainly didn’t learn any of this growing up.
    I can’t even choose a favorite fact. As a single mom and owner of 2 businesses, this is a list that I will refer to often.

    Matt, you truly have attained real wisdom I thank you SO MUCH for sharing it.

    Sincerely, Felicia

    • I wonder if it’s stuff you can learn growing up. There are so many lessons like these I want to teach my son, but I just wonder how many of them will go in one ear and out the other (and how many of these might my parents have tried to teach me, and I dismissed them so quickly I have no memory of it?).

  33. Shannon says:


  34. Wowza. A profound and powerful post, Matt. Thank you! I especially agree with #1.

    As for talent, I do think it makes a difference in life, but I would agree that discipline, hard work, and maturity matter more.

    • Thanks Gena. I love when you like my posts… makes me feel like I did something smart. 🙂

      Of course talent makes some difference. But much less than many people think. There are some great books on the subject; one I love is called Talent is Overrated, by Geoff Colvin.

  35. Meredith says:

    This was an awesome post and a much needed one at that– I’m bookmarking it!

  36. Very profound Matt. Nice post to read – thanks for all those life reminders!

  37. I love this one– 8.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.

    I need to get back into a good rhythm!

  38. That was truly inspirational, and I’m putting it on my wall 🙂

  39. Matt, I really enjoyed this post. I’ve just come to terms with #11 myself, and spent the last couple weeks doing a massive purge of the house. Watching the guys from the charity pick-up haul that stuff off my front porch, into their truck, and out of my life, was the greatest feeling. I’ve already forgotten most of what was donated! A good sign the stuff wasn’t adding anything to my quality of life.

    Love the blog. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks Jayme! Yeah, getting rid of stuff feels great, doesn’t it? I just used 1-800-GOT-JUNK to get rid of stuff I’d been putting off taking to the dump for like a year and a half… should have done it then!

  40. Thanks, Matt. Excellent post and I really appreciate it!

  41. Crystal says:

    I found your website through Healthy Tipping Point.
    This is a fantastic post! Lately, unfortunately, I’ve been doing everthing the opposite of what is recommended in this post-maybe out of fear, not being in the best place emotionally, I don’t really know what my problem has been. I’m really glad you wrote this because I needed the reminders. Happy 4th of July Weekend!

  42. Rusty Shackleford says:

    Excellent post, I’ve been reading here for a few months, and this is probably one of my favorites.

    Thanks for spurring me to reexamine myself and what I’m doing in life for a few minutes.

  43. #4 is how I believe Karma exists – not in the traditional sense, but basically that if you’re a good person people will want to be good to you (most people at least will), help you out, and hang with you… and if you’re a mean person you’re sort of living a not so great life as no one wants to be around you.

    • Totally agree. A lot of these ancient, Eastern principles like Karma and Law of Attraction (I realize that’s a very modern way of naming that one) have explanations like yours that make them feasible even without a spiritual or religious nature.

  44. I LOVE this list! A few on there really made me catch my breath. Thanks for putting it together and for sharing it here. Many good reminders as well as a few “I never thought of it like that,” statements.

    • Thank you, Joy! I had a lot of fun writing this one — I guess my normal content isn’t really the “make you catch your breath” type, so it was nice to do something a little different. Glad you liked it.

  45. I finally had a chance to read this, and I’m SO glad I made the time. So many items on this list echo through my life.

    The only one I’d add is – negative people create negative energy, but you can control your outlook on life, and how you approach situations will be noticed. (I’ve recently been through a rough patch at work – staying positive has made it less stressful, and made my managers appreciate my attitude!).

    Wonderful post Matt, probably your best ever.

    • Kris, I completely agree with that one. I think the “will be noticed” point is important — it’s not just staying positive for your own well-being; it’s that people actually do change (well, some people) when someone else provides an example of the alternative.

  46. Hi Matt,

    I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but I followed a rogue tweet to find this blog post and — wow! I absolutely love it. So many wise words and thoughtful little flecks of gold. I just want to say thank you. So!

    Thank you.


  47. Awesome post, loved it. Thanks for taking the time to write and share this with the world. We all need reminders and to know there are people out there with similar values aimed at living healthfully.

  48. Awesome post! Enjoyed reading it and made get to thinking….

  49. Great post. There is a lot of wisdom in there! Thanks Matt.

  50. I think I need to post this on my wall at work! You are always kicking my butt into gear… Thanks!

  51. Thanks Matt-You rock!

  52. What a great and inspirational post! Thanks so much for sharing =)

  53. This was definitely a knock-out post, Matt!

    I have long said that we need life skills classes in school… Nobody teaches kids how to survive and thrive in the real world.

  54. Marjorie says:

    I am a mom(newly empty nest) with all kids just starting their new careers…your blog strike a chord for them as well as myself in this stage, and I appreciated all of it!

  55. I have been thinking about this post since I read it. Most of these ring pretty true.

  56. Yay! Maybe it’s something in the air because a lot of these items have been topics of discussion in my home recently. Quoted Stephen King a few days ago for his remark, “Talent is cheap. Cheap as table salt.” And talking about how great it is that nearly anyone can make and record music now, write and distribute a book, etc. And the fact that for my kids’ gifts and rewards I spend my money on experiences instead of objects every time (a neighbor kid asked one of my children, “Do you play Guitar Hero?” and my kid said, “Um… I play guitar? Is that what you mean?”

    Anyway… I love this list and I passed it on. Thanks!

  57. Wow! Love. A wonderful list. Number 6 – especially resonated with me.Couldn’t agree more. Great job. 🙂

  58. Michael says:

    #14 has been sinking in for me lately:

    “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.”

    What am I waiting for?! :-\


  59. Fabulous! I am printing and putting on the frig’. Thank you for a great post!

    PS: Found you via the simply luxurious blog!

  60. This post just got me sending a e-mail I should have sent like one-two weeks ago. Not beacuse I have to, but it involves me trying to make a dream come true and that’s really scary. Thanks! 🙂

  61. I don’t agree with number 23. I think being talented and naturally gifted is the greatest thing one can have. Nothing can really top natural talent. And it’s definitely not boring. Take for example Salieri and Mozart. One had a natural gift and work came easy to him, the other one had a little bit of talent and worked very hard. And who are we remembering today as the greatest musical genius? Not the hard working one, but the naturally genius one, Mozart.

  62. Theresa Clark says:

    I think this is good for Theresa and being herself is very super important to her ENTIRE LIFE and I REALLY MEAN IT A LOT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  63. Great post! Thanks!

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