When I turned 30, I asked myself “what are the most important life principles?” Here’s what I came up with.
Ever since I was 15, I wanted to be 30. Nobody listens to you when you’re a kid. You have no means and no experience so you’re doing everything for the first time. And unless you’re incredibly gifted that also means that nothing you’re doing is very good. As a kid, you’re just at the mercy of some guardians and, as you’ll later find out, they aren’t always right.
My life has been far from ordinary. By the time I was eight I had lived in Boston, Salt Lake City, and Chicago. I was kicked out of elementary school and high school. Even after getting my GED I dropped out of college. With the help of some wonderful mentors, I taught myself how to build and design software and now I teach people to do the same — go figure!
Instead of college, I went to work. It was terrible work at first but I learned, got better, and weaseled my way into better jobs as quickly I could. Eventually, I cut out on my own. I tried to build a company and learned a lot about what not to do. Now, I’m living in San Francisco putting to good use over a decade of web development and three decades of life experience.
So, what have I learned?
First, take care of yourself. You have to take responsibility for everything in your life. How you feel is entirely up to you and happiness is an inside job. Life passes through us like light through a prism and we control what comes out the other side.
Take care of others. Once you’ve found your center, dedicate your life to the service of others. Build rapport through transparency and vulnerability. We like to think our problems are special and unique but they’re not and that makes them relatable. Use common ground to build trust and then carefully explore differences. Allow yourself to see someone else’s perspective and challenge them to take yours.
Know what you want and understand the sacrifice it takes to have it. Everything is delicately interconnected and what you want is often diametrically opposed to something else you also want. We can waste a lot of energy trying to have both and getting frustrated. Instead, accept the tradeoffs and obsess over what it is that you want. Figure out exactly what it looks like in as much detail as you can. Then, rather delightfully, you may see that it’s right in front of you for the taking.
Take it for granted that anything you can imagine can be real. The sooner you eliminate “can’t” from your vocabulary, the faster your dreams will become reality. Science has already proven the efficacy of the placebo: if you’re convinced something will make you feel better, you will start feeling better. And in just the same way if you’re convinced something can be done, it will be done. In the words of Henry Ford, “whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.”
The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Everyone starts at zero. Zero sucks, I know. It’s that awkward, clumsy, sloppy period when you know just enough to know that you’re doing it wrong and everyone can tell. Spend as little time at zero as you can. Move faster than your self-doubt. Remind yourself that it doesn’t take much to be competent and competence will often give you just enough momentum to become good. Keep an eye out for shortcuts — focus on where you’re trying to go and don’t let your work ethic get in your way.
Produce more light than heat. Use your energy to create more energy. Doing the opposite is easy. It takes a vision backed by ingenuity and lots of hard work to create something bigger than yourself. Put care, attention, and love into what you do and the rest will follow.
I wrote this back in January, when I turned 30. I was feeling particularly inspired and wanted to take some time to reflect on the life principles that are most important to me. I hope they speak to you.