Take this challenge: Read this list of 37 life lessons and pick 30 that you think may be true. Each day spend 10 minutes diving into a concept I shared here. Don’t let the message get lost in the chaos of life. Invest in some time each day to think about these things. Some of them may be great for you and others may not. The process of finding out is key. It will change your life.
1. Happiness really is a choice.
When you look for happiness outside of yourself, you will never be happy. The fear of missing out can cause you strive for ‘something else’ constantly, forgetting to appreciate the happiness you already have. Long term happiness is less about what happens to you and around you…and more about who you are. “After a year, lottery winners and paraplegics are equally happy with their lives.” -Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness
2. You will never feel ready.
When an opportunity comes along and you think you need to feel ready to take action, you’ll never do anything. No one feels 100%. The secret is learning to tolerate the feelings of awkwardness (and even shame) that come along with expanding your comfort zone and doing new things. (More on this with #14.)
3. People will argue for their own limitations in life.
Don’t limit yourself because you believe you can’t achieve your dreams. In my consulting business, I coach seasoned executives as well as those who are starting new businesses; I see a common thread between them. Their success is directly related to their mindset. Once we tackle their habits, and the stories they tell themselves, we are able to focus on business strategy. Without that foundational work on the person, any business tactics and strategy is limited. All business is about people.
4. Speak your truth respectfully when it seems easier to give in.
I awkwardly told Brene Brown that she MUST be the keynote at BlissDom a few years ago. She came and spoke and changed my way of thinking about saying no with this one line: “Choose discomfort over resentment.” I try to now choose a moment of discomfort and say no to things that I do not want to do/have the energy to do/do not believe in. Yes, it is uncomfortable to say no, but it is so much better than resenting that I said yes.
5. Sometimes it is best to keep your mouth closed.
It is always tempting to go all Julia Sugarbaker on people who are spouting nonsense. It could be the Mom at PTA who is bragging about how her son has developed a cure for cancer out of old lollipop sticks in his room, or a blog post I disagree with, or someone’s opinion on Twitter. I’ve learned that I should just stay out of it (see: You can’t change people) and not involve myself. The risks are too high that I would look like a jerk (because it would be jerky, right?) or that I would look like a bully. It is best to avoid silly drama and stay focused on my own business.
6. Judge others by their actions and never by words, or worse, “good intentions” alone.
As Maya Angelou said, “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.” This is especially true of politicians.
7. You can’t change anyone’s behavior, their brand of crazy, their perspective, or their opinions.
People are complex, and have years of ingrained beliefs and a lifetime of experience that makes them who they are. I’m not going to change any of it. People only change when they decide to change. I don’t have a magic wand. Once you accept that, you only need to focus on the people who do care about you, your vision and what you have to say. You can ignore the ones who don’t. Haters are a decidedly bad target demographic.
8. Homogeny kills creativity and growth.
Without the Internet (especially Twitter), I would have never had the good luck to meet so many people with different backgrounds, beliefs, and stories. Most of my friends have very different views and beliefs about issues I hold dear. Hours have been spent discussing the different beliefs without ever attacking each other personally. How could I be so sure of what I believe if I was never exposed to anything else and had opportunities to question my beliefs? Mutual respect and understanding is born of sharing diverse opinions and perspectives.
9. Never mistake someone’s struggles with moral failure.
Take the time to get to know someone and understand their struggles and what led up to them, instead of making broad assumptions. We are all fallible and doing the best we can with what we have at the time.
10. You will thrive in the right community.
Our culture likes to idolize the renegade leader who single handedly turned companies around or built a great product. It’s a narrative that sells magazines but it’s not how the world works. Great leaders bring the vision but it takes others will the talent to execute that vision to bring it to life. Everyone from lone wolf entrepreneurs to freelancers are plagued with a common struggle — loneliness. You need a community of others who understand your struggles, who share a common mindset, and who can give you the feedback and encouragement you need.
Whether you are an entrepreneur, a stay-at-home mom, or a scientist working in the jungles of Borneo, find your (online or offline) community and you will thrive.
11. View mistakes as valuable testing feedback.
Mistakes and ‘failure’ means you are trying, you are alive, and you care. Real failure is when you give up before you reach your goal — everything else up to that point is progress. In business, real success comes from testing assumptions and getting feedback on our ideas/products/services constantly. Instead of viewing your mistakes as failure, think of them as valuable feedback on what needs to change in order for real success and happiness.
12. Learn to have fun again.
Hey, you don’t have to tell me that being a grown up sucks all the fun out of life if you let it. I learned to start having fun again in my thirties after I said goodbye to the self-consciousness of my twenties. Letting ourselves be silly and have fun is a perfect way to balance all the stress and responsibilities of modern life. Look for friends who love finding the fun in everyday life, and start looking at your life. Look for opportunities to have fun.
Many business people are afraid to let their whole personalities show because they are locked in the corporate image of what a successful business person looks like and acts like. Don’t lock yourself in the prison. Would we all love Richard Branson as much if he was boring? A successful business person is successful because of the results, not because of an image. Once you show the world you deliver results and execute well, then you can stop pretending you don’t have a real life.
13. The world doesn’t owe you a single thing.
Prepare for the worst and hope for the best. Never be that person with an inflated sense of entitlement. I’ve learned time and time again that pride really does go before a fall. Now pull up your big boy pants and stop expecting reality to be different than it is. Feel better? Good.
14. Learn to tolerate feelings of awkwardness and being uncomfortable to live your best life.
Most people avoid feeling awkward, uncomfortable, or ashamed like they avoid jumping in a lake of alligators. The limitations of your comfort zone will limit what kind of life you will lead. Every great success came from countless awkward moments, moments of lying in bed staring at the ceiling thinking, “What the heck am I doing anyway?” and times of painful vulnerability. The more you learn to accept this as part of the journey, the faster they lose the ability to scare you.
Write the words you have inside you, take those lessons you always wanted to take, or just let yourself feel awkward, but start taking small steps that scare you. Soon you will look back on what you thought were your limitations and wonder what took you so long.
15. What you edit out of life determines what you have room to let in.
In order to build a business that is great for you, you must edit out the elements that are merely good. Because the merely good isn’t good enough and won’t help build the future you want. So cull everything that doesn’t propel you forward, or it will anchor you to the past.
16. Perfectionism is a fear-based form of Procrastination.
Don’t try to get things perfect. Just get them done.
17. People do not value what they get for free.
People value what they have worked for and not what is given to them. This is true for children as well as adults. If you give away your time or talent, people will value your time and talent as worthless…and they will expect it to always come to them for free, on demand.
18. Your lowest paying client/customer will be the most high maintenance.
Next time you are tempted to give discounts and ‘work with someone’ keep it in mind that it rarely works out well. From corporate clients to my business coaching clients; they less they pay the more difficult it will be to work with them. There are some who will always want more for less, and if you provide it for them, you’ve got nobody to blame but yourself.
19. You don’t need the masses to love what you offer.
Most small business owners don’t need millions of clients, they need a enough to make a great profit and still have a life. You don’t need the masses to love what you do, you need the people you serve to love what you do. Anything else is a numbers game fueled by vanity metrics.
20. If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.
Delayed interest payments, easy lines of credit, ever-increasing real estate prices, social security lockboxes… You see where I’m going. Also, student loans are a millstone around your neck. Avoid them. The government subsidizes student loans which allows institutions to continually inflate tuition and fees, requiring you to borrow more (lather rinse repeat). Avoid that trap.
21. Keeping up with the Joneses will have you following the Joneses all the way to bankruptcy court.
You are not your bank account, your car, or your house. The more you collect, the more you want, the more you have to work to keep your head above water. Seek only what you need and say no to the things you want only because others have it. When you think about your wealth in terms of things that make your life happy, you will see that more money to buy more things has nothing to do with real wealth. For me, my family, my friends, my freedom, and my ability to run my company on my terms gives me more wealth than a high paying corporate gig ever could.
22. Give 10% of your earnings to your church (house of worship of choice/charity/cause)
That is the best money advice in the world. The more you try to hold on to money, the faster it disappears. Use your money and never let yourself worship it.
23. Everyone thinks their children are above average.
Actually, most people think their children are exceptional geniuses full of charm and blessed with good looks. It is just the nature of parenting. As my grandaddy said when I was bragging on how handsome my first baby was, “Every crow thinks theirs is the blackest.” I laughed and knew his country humor was spot on.
24. Parenting, despite how soul-suckingly hard it is at times, is the most rewarding experience of our lives.
Parenting helps us grow as individuals, think more critically about our lives and generally be better people. Parenting is harder than you can ever imagine. All the exhaustion, the constant going, the neediness, and the noise wears on you. The worry that you aren’t doing a good enough job gnaws at you. Remember to take care of yourself while you parent. You can’t give from an empty cup. Seek the healthy things that fill you up and help relieve stress.
25. Helicopter parents raise children who don’t have enough self determination or will to stand up for themselves.
If Jimmy’s mom is constantly complaining that her son is ignored on the playground, helping him with his homework projects, gets cheated out of a cupcake at lunch, and didn’t get to be the quarterback at football, how will he ever learn to assert himself through the years? Starting in elementary school, children should be gently encouraged to take a stand and choose discomfort over letting Mommy fight their battles.
26. Your kids will respect that you will be the bad guy and keep them in check.
No child, or adult for that matter, is happiest when given free reign. Too many choices and freedoms lead to mistakes. Give kids what freedom and space they have earned according to their level of maturity and by their behavior. When they mess up, reign them back in a little. You can do it and your kids will appreciate not being able to bulldoze you.
27. Republicans and Democrats are more similar than not.
Both parties are full of people who want the best thing for the country and both parties are full of people who lie and say anything that helps them stay in power. Sadly, because of systemic demonization from both sides for political gain, the party members think of outsiders as ‘bad’, ‘evil’ or ‘unpatriotic’.
28. Politicians stay in power by spending huge sums of tax dollars for pet projects to keep voters (and their donors and lobbyists) happy.
Short term perks over long term investment are unsustainable. Ignore most of what politicians say and watch what they do. Be sure to go back and compare election promises and flowery language with what that politician actually does. The difference is striking. Don’t be afraid to think critically and question what elected officials do while representing you in Washington. See: NSA.
29. The best way to share your faith is by living it out.
No one ever decided to change religions because some Judgy-McJudgerson told them they were going to hell.
30. There is nothing holy about senseless violence, misogyny, or racism.
Self explanatory — or at least it should be.
31. Invest in your most important relationships.
The most important decisions you will make determining your happiness and success are: your spouse, your close friends, and your mentors. Choose them well. Friends who celebrate your successes, support you when you make dumb mistakes, and love you enough to tell you the truth even when it is uncomfortable are a treasure. Never take them for granted. Tell them often how much they mean to you. Everyone loves hearing that!
32. Sex makes life better.
Most men are really, really happy in marriage, are respectful, loving, and will treat their spouses like royalty if they feel respected and have sex regularly. It really is that simple. There will be times your marriage is rocky, don’t be surprised when the honeymoon phase is over and the stress of daily life takes a toll. It doesn’t mean your marriage is bad — it means you are both humans.
33. Modern husbands don’t really always do 50% of the housework.
Before people start freaking out in the comment section: I know some of you may have husbands who do 50% or even 100% of household work. That’s awesome, but your amazing spouses are the exception to the rule. I blame women’s magazines in my teen years for giving me the impression that my future husband would happily share household duties. I slowly revealed my shock that he would not help around the house to my friends and they all admitted it was the same scenario at their own homes. We were all silently disappointed. After years of arguing with my husband I decided to take matters in my own hands. I realized that a housekeeper was a small price to pay for peace under our roof. I hired a housekeeper and I taught my sons how to do the dishes and the laundry. Their wives will thank me one day.
34. You should treat your spouse the way you want your kids’ future spouses to treat them.
The marital relationship you model will stay with your children for a lifetime. Remember that next time you need to vent and your spouse is a handy target.
35. Examine how your parents treated you and only repeat the healthy behaviors.
Many loving parents accidentally handicap their children with their words; often they heard the same words from their parents. As adults we can examine those messages and prove them wrong; then you are free from getting caught in the same pattern of behavior. When you find yourself telling yourself the same message you heard as a kid, you can remind yourself of what is truth and not give painful messages any power.
36. Only spend time with friends who build you up.
Your time is limited and your energy is precious. Only let yourself spend time with friends who add to your life. Unhealthy friends exhaust you. They complain, feel sorry for themselves, make backhanded compliments and bring everyone else down to their level.
37. Seek wisdom.
Wisdom comes from mistakes, from growth, and from a life dedicated to learning. Many people stop learning new skills after they have their degree, and any new skills or training is left in the hands of their employer. The world we envisioned just 10 years ago is gone. The people who take learning, growth, and skills development into their own hands will be tomorrow’s leaders.
You may have wondered why there were 37 life lessons. Why not 30 or 35? Because I update my list of life lessons on my birthday. This year I am 37. 37 life lessons for my 37 years, of course!