30 Life Lessons Learned in 30 Years

Today is my 30th birthday. With my 20s officially behind me, I thought about some of the most important life lessons I’ve learned over my first 30 years of life. Here they are, in no particular order. 

1. Live a life true to yourself.

The single most common thing people regret when they near the end of their lives is this: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” When I look back on my life, I want to look back and be grateful for having honored my dreams. I don’t want to look back on a long list of unfulfilled dreams, thinking about how I should’ve/would’ve/could’ve — but never did. Most people don’t even honor half their dreams, let alone all of them, and end up going to their death-bed knowing that it was their own decisions (or indecisions) that determined a destiny bursting at the seams with unfulfilled dreams.

YOU are the author of your destiny, so write the story you want to live, regardless of how fictional it may or may not sound to someone else. Live a life that’s true to YOU. Dream big, and don’t settle for less than you’re capable of.

2. Express your emotions.

I’m not afraid to let myself cry. You shouldn’t be either. It’s okay to let yourself feel your feelings, rather than pretend like they don’t exist. It’s possible to let life’s moments touch you, without allowing them to hurt you.

It’s also important to express your emotions to others, rather than suppress them in order to avoid ruffling anyone’s feathers, or keep them inside for fear of embarrassing yourself.

3. Better done than perfect.

My favorite excuse for my lack of action and initiative used to be perfectionism. I’d puff up my chest and say, “I’m a perfectionist, that’s why I haven’t launched XYZ-thing yet.” But in reality, “I’m a perfectionist” really means “I’m a coward.”

Don’t hide behind this cloak of comfort known as perfectionism. Call it what it is: fear. Then, launch and learn. The first iPhone was a touch-screen brick full of glitches. Today, it’s thinner than the Olsen twins on a 3-day crack binge.

4. Settle for more.

The only difference between you and someone you envy is that they decided to settle for more in life than you did.

5. Find something in life that pulls you. 

You can only “push yourself” for so long before your body, mind, and spirit toss their hands in the air and say, “F-this, I’m out.”  When you keeping pushing yourself to do something, it feels like something you have to do. But when you’re pulled by something, it feels like something you get to do. Me? I’m pulled by my obsession with learning about personal development, success, and motivation — and then sharing what I learn to inspire people around the world to live up to their highest potential on a daily basis. This is one of the things in life that juices me up and gives me purpose.

6. Go for walks.

Not as inspiring as the first few, I know. But a brisk morning walk has been one of the most eye-opening habits I’ve ever decided to develop. No joke. Every morning, I go on a 15-20 minute walk outside. For the first half of the walk, I think about what I’m grateful for, and envision how I’d like my day to play out. For the second half of the walk, I just walk — and that’s it. It’s the second half of my morning walk during which I’ve had some of my best ideas and all-out epiphanies of my life. There’s something about being outside in nature–without any specific intentions other than enjoying a nice walk and observing nature’s boundless beauty–that re-energizes me and gets the good vibes flowing. It’s awesome. You should try it.

7. Happiness comes from solving problems. 

It’s not the suffering of the problems that leads to happiness. It’s the solving of the suffering that leads to happiness. Happiness is also a choice (which we’ll talking about in more detail in the final life lesson). We can choose happiness every day of our lives, rather than imagining that we will eventually, someday, be happy. Stop saying, “someday I’ll be happy when I can get X or do Y”. Instead, start choosing to be happy right now—on a moment to moment basis—regardless of what’s going on in your life.

8. Develop a growth mindset.

The essence of this life lesson — developing a growth mindset — for me means this: Hard work trumps talent every day of the week. The growth minded swimmer who works hard, day in and day out, will surmount his naturally talented opponents.

People that constantly complain, blame, and refuse to take responsibility for their lives do not have a growth mindset. Growth oriented people don’t blame the economy for their lack of wealth; they pick up a book so they can learn how to create their own. Growth oriented people don’t allow their failures to define their identity; they learn from them and come back stronger as a result. If you want to develop a growth mindset, focus only on that which is within your control. Let go of everything else..

9. Develop selected disciplines into habits.

No list of life lessons would be complete without mentioning words like “discipline” and “habit”. Though seperate in meaning, disciplines and habits ultimately intersect with one another to form the foundation for achievement — regularly working at something until it regularly works for you. When you discipline yourself, you’re essentially training yourself to act in a specific way. Stay with this long enough and it becomes a habit. In other words, when you see people that seem like they’re super DISCIPLINED, what you’re really observing is people who conditioned a handful of HABITS into their lives.

Bottom line? Success is in actuality a short race — a sprint fueled by discipline just long enough for habit to kick in and take over. So here’s the trick if you want to create a habit — you’ll need to use your will-power/discipline juice in the beginning. This is hard. But keep at it. According to research, it takes, on average, 66 days to develop a discipline into a habit. This number might vary for you depending on your situation, but remember that it’s not something that you can do over-night. But it is possible. And once you turn a discipline into a habit, you become better at it and it becomes easier to execute.

10. Be "regular and orderly."

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

The quote above was written by a French novelist named Gustave Flaubert, and the reason I love it is because it so elegantly (and violently?) explains how putting certain systems in place can free up tons of bandwidth and energy that you can put into doing deep work, or whatever else you care about. Put the important stuff in your life on autopilot, so that you don’t have to think about it when it’s time to do them.

For example: there’s no use bantering back and forth with yourself every morning about whether you should get up at 6am and hit the gym, or whether you should skip your workout and sleep in for an hour. This is wasted energy you could be putting into your most important work. Just decide ahead of time whether you’re going to do it or not–and then do it! Use the power of habit (see life lesson #9) to get yourself moving in the right direction. Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work. Love it.

11. Be present. 

Presence is power. I’d rather be fully present with my wife (or whoever) for five minutes, than be partially present for fifty minutes. Full presence means being fully there, locked-in. Not looking at my phone. Not thinking about what I’m going to say when she’s done talking. Just full, total, presence. It’s powerful.

In similar vein, it’s just as important to be present when we’re with ourselves. I’m not trying to sound all new-agey or anything, but try noticing the things you’re not used to noticing: the way you’re stomach rises when you breath, how nice it feels when the cool wind touches your cheek, that annoying feeling you get when your foot falls asleep, etc.

12. Communication is your #1 skill.

The ability to clearly communicate your ideas to other people is the most valuable skill you can ever develop. Learn to communicate your ideas orally as well as in written form. Also, learn as many techniques as possible: how to write with brevity (short-form), how to write long-form, how to use gesticulation, articulation, tonality, etc.

13. Combine short-term pessimism + long-term optimism.

Becoming a short-term pessimist AND a long-term optimist means you understand that most of what you try (over the short-term) will not work… But that’s okay, because eventually (over the long-term) you’ll find something that does.

14. Write it down, make it happen. 

Write down your goals every day. Just take out your journal, and write down what you want. Two big reasons this is helpful:

  1. Awareness–it keeps your mind aware of what you want;
  2. Self-motivation–writing down your goals everyday helps you hold yourself accountable towards making them happen.

15. Admit when you’re wrong. 

When I’m wrong about something, I’ve learned to admit it quickly and emphatically. Anytime I’ve tried to do it differently has led to: (a) me looking like a jackass, (b) not having learned anything, or (c) both.

16. Read every day.

The greatest way to get the greatest ideas is to read, read, read. There’s this great quote that goes like this: “Books are the hardbound drug of my choice.” I like that one a lot. Plus, the only side effect of reading is a positive one—the more you read, the more ideas you get. Read something every day to expand your mind. Even if it’s just for 20 minutes

17. Profits are better than wages.

In a nutshell: Wages are earned by the hour. Profits are earned while you sleep. Make something once, profit from it for the rest of your life.

Putting this idea into action literally took me from the brink of bankruptcy to becoming a millionaire by 30. And by the way, I’m not saying this to impress you, but to impress upon you, that if you want more, you can have more. A profit-model will get you there, but the wage-way probably won’t.

18. Give back + help as many people as possible.

The secret to living is giving. Give back. Pay it forward. Do it often. As Zig Ziglar used to say, “You can have anything you want if you can help enough other people get what they want.”

19. Get grateful.

It’s impossible to feel grateful and feel stressed simultaneously. If you ever feel stressed about something, STOP: think about 3 things you’re grateful for. You’ll feel better almost immediately. I promise.

20. Embrace your failures.

Our failures help us course-correct our way to success. The most successful people in the world fail fast and fail often. Why? Because every failure is a lesson learned. And every lesson learned gets us one step closer to success. In this way, failure becomes beautiful. So don’t fear it, embrace it. Speaking of fear…

21. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

There’s no such thing as being fearless. There is only courage, which is the ability to take action in spite of fear–to feel the fear and do it anyway. Everyone’s afraid of something. I feel fear almost every day.

Often times, our fears come from our imagined potential for failure (hence the term, “fear of failure”). Now, because embracing fear will indeed often mean we end up failing, it’s important that we recognize that it’s usually not nearly as painful and uncomfortable to just feel the fear and do it anyway.

Ironically, the stress and anxiety that comes about when we think about doing what we fear is usually more painful and uncomfortable than doing the damn thing and getting it over with.

22. You’re already ready.

Action is not just the effect of motivation, but also the cause of motivation.

Imagine you’re driving your car on a quiet highway in the middle of a foggy night. You can barely see 10 feet ahead of you, but you still continue driving at 65mph. Maybe you let up the gas a bit when it gets way too hard to see what’s ahead of you, but you’re still driving at a steady pace towards your destination.

Why not take this strategy and apply it to the rest of your life? You might not have all the tools you need right now, but you’ve probably got enough to get started, right? Start now, regardless whether you’re ready or not; regardless of whether you have all the high-tech gadgets or not. The key to dealing with the fear of failure is knowing that you’re already ready. When you’re stuck on a problem, don’t just sit there, do something. It’s OK if you’re afraid (we’re all afraid.) The answers will follow.

23. Do your ONE most important thing first. 

One thing at a time. Sometimes, while I’m listening to an audiobook on my phone, I’ll get a message and start replying to it. Once I’ve replied, I find that I’ve totally lost my place in the book. This is because the human mind is only capable of focusing on one big thing at a time. Focus on one thing at a time. Crush it. Then move on to the next thing. Ideally, before beginning your work in the morning, take 10 minutes to review the ONE most important thing you need to do today. Then get started on it. Your focus and effectiveness will be far higher when you approach your day this way.

24. Look at what’s real. 

Coca-cola is carbonated sugar water — that’s what’s real. Fine red wine is actually aged grape juice — that’s what’s real. The $100 pair of LuLuLemon sweat pants I’m wearing are cut from the same $2-cloth as the lesser-priced pair made by the generic brand no one knows about — that’s what’s real.

(I tell people I buy overpriced clothing from brands like LuLuLemon because of the quality. But that’s just partially true. I’d say it’s really 20% = quality, 80% = I wanna feel special. — that’s what’s real.)

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point: look at things as they really are… When you find yourself giving too much importance to something, just bust it down to what it really is, rather than romanticizing it into something it isn’t.

25. Managing energy–not time–is the key to real producitivity. 

Several years ago, I read a great book called The Power of Full Engagement by Tony Shwartz and Jim Loehr. In the book, they described a new system that totally changed my way of approaching my personal and professional life: they described how the real key to high performance and personal renewal isn’t about managing time, it’s about managing energy. And it’s so true. Each day gives us a short window of about 2-4 hours of high-energy, high-productivity time. It’s during this short window that we can operate as the sharpest, most creative version of ourselves… Which is why we need to leverage this time wisely if we want to be as productive and effective as possible. My window happens to be between the hours of 6am-10am. How about you?

26. Prototype potential lifestyles. 

In their great book, Designing Your Life, authors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans write: “In truth, most people are passionate about many different things, and the only way to know what they want to do is to prototype some potential lives, try them out, and see what really resonates with them.” <–useful advice.

27. Sweat every day.

Exercise — or at least finding a way to sweat every day — is one of the highest leverage things you can do for your overall health and happiness. When you’re physically healthier, you become professionally healthier as a by-product.

28. Get mentors. 

You’ve probably heard it before: “If you want to be successful, find a mentor.” It’s true. We all need mentors to guide us towards greatness. But to be honest, I’ve never had a dedicated in-person mentor. In fact, I’ve actually learned my most transformative life lessons from reading books, which I consider to be a form of mentorship. (I mean, what better way to get into a mentor’s mind than by reading their books?) And by the way, I’m not saying real-life mentors are bad, because they aren’t; it’s still probably the best way to get yourself to the next level. All I’m saying is this: if you can’t find the right in-person mentor, then you’ve got other options too. Books are one such option. Virtual mentors are another — videos, TED talks, speeches, online courses, motivational talks and seminars are all forms of virtual mentorship. Bottom line: it’s true, we all need mentors. But in this day and age, mentorship–actionable knowledge and wisdom from someone with experience–comes in a variety of forms.

29. Take care of your family.

When everyone else abandons you, and you’re getting ready to do that thing where you curl up in some tiny little corner with your arms wrapped around your knees, crying like there’s no tomorrow–it’s usually your family that’s there to help you get back on your feet. I’d be nowhere without my family. Same probably goes for you. Love your family as much as you know they love you. One of the most painful feelings in the world is to have your time with someone you love cut short unexpectedly, knowing that you could’ve done more but didn’t. Love your family.

30. Live like you give a damn.

Another one of the most common regrets among the dying is this: “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” The last thing you want to be thinking about when you get to the end of your life is whether you allowed yourself to just be happy or not. Because the simple truth of the matter is this: life is a choice, and so is happiness.

You can choose to be happy, right here, right now — this is what it means to live like you give a damn — to choose happiness in as many moments as you can. It’s never too late to start living like you give a damn.

I wish that I had let myself be happier.
I choose to be happy right now.

The fear of change had these people–the one’s who wished they’d let themselves be happier–putting on a false-facade, pretending to be satisfied with life… When in reality they knew they were lying–not just to others, but to themselves as well. When deep inside, they yerned to laugh and be goofy and weird and loving — just like they used to be when they were little kids.

But it’s too late for them now. They’re too close to death. It’s not too late for you though. Hopefully you still have time — time to change, embrace fear, and give a few fucks less about what others think of you. When you’re on your deathbed, what other people think of you is the last thing on your mind.

What if you could just let go and smile again? What if you could just be you? And what if you could do it now, and not moments before you take your last breath? Guess what? You can.

Remember: You are the author of your destiny.

This means you get to write your own story. It means you get to choose how you want everything to play out.

If you’ve been living a life based on someone else’s terms for longer than you care to remember, now is your chance to start fresh… To wipe the slate clean. To start writing your story. To start living like you give a damn.


Next up: 30 more life lessons

By the time I was finished writing out my original list of life lessons for this article, I had 60—rather than the originally intended 30—life lessons on my list. Since it wouldn’t make much sense to put 60 things on an article titled 30 Life Lessons I Learned in 30 Years, I decided to work on another one. You can read it or listen to it here: 30 More Life Lessons Learned in 30 Years.

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