30 Years, 30 Lessons

Taking stock of the triumphs and foibles of youth


1. EQ > IQ

We’re the most highly educated generation that’s ever been, but this is little replacement for empathy and compassion. I’ve rarely been moved by the purely book-smart. Rather, the bosses, teachers, CEO’s and change-makers who have left the greatest impression on me are those who are kind, gracious, compassionate, humble human beings.

2. The cost of travelling is heartbreaking. The cost of not travelling is worse.

3. Being on time is often the first and most controllable means of earning or losing respect.

4. A GENTLE, KIND APPROACH COMMANDS AN OPEN, ATTENTIVE LISTENER

It’s not easy to criticize constructively, but sometimes we need to. Instead of heading into a challenging discussion all guns blazing, compliment your listener at the start. Point out something they’ve done well. When someone sees that you can acknowledge the good in them, they’ll trust you enough to be open to hearing the bad.

5. EMBRACE PAIN

It’s human nature to seek out the things that make us feel good and to run away from the things that don’t. But I have learnt to meet sorrow and heartache head-on when needed. By doing so, I’ve discovered the most about myself and the reasons for my sadness. By relenting to pain and life’s trials when they occur, I find I am able to move on more easily.

6. True love is hard work.

7. “All human evil comes from a single cause: man’s inability to sit still in a room.” Blaise Pascal

I can’t take credit for this astute quote, but its message is crystal clear. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.

8. DON’T TRY SOMETHING NEW; RATHER, HONE SOMETHING KNOWN

I’ve experienced some of my greatest joys by focusing on just a handful of passions: to write, to play the game of tennis or to spend hours immersing myself in pieces on the study of the human mind are a few of them.

It’s easy to feel pressured to “try new things” — and FOMO is real — but what if we spent more time perfecting, learning about and digging much deeper into the things we love? Yes, our attention spans suck. But by habitually making time for just a sprinkling of interests at the expense of many fleeting experiences, I’ve found an intensified sense of satisfaction.

9. EAT BETTER, EXERCISE MORE

Why is this one so hard for us to grasp? A good diet and regular physical activity will realise benefits you can see, feel and enjoy every day. We’re a bunch of maniacs for not placing more emphasis on our health.

10. Regrets are energy vampires. Grab a few cloves of garlic, deal with it, and sleep easier.

11. DON’T KILL YOURSELF FOR WORK

It’s not worth it now, it wasn’t worth it then, and it won’t be worth it tomorrow. Your health (physical AND mental) trumps your job each and every time. You can be a hard, consistent worker and also not lose yourself to your employer — it is possible. If it’s not, then move on until you find a better balance.

12. Consistent authenticity is tough to practice and rare to find, but wonderfully energising when you do.

13. The fast-paced, modern world can be a cold place for the humble and meek at heart.

14. THE ULTIMATE LIFE GOAL = FIGHTING FOR A NON-PERSONAL CAUSE

It’s easy to fight for a cause that’s personal to us. For women, it’s often challenging damaging gender norms. For gay people, it’s pride. For black South Africans, it’s conquering continued racial discrimination. But how affecting is it to see someone fighting for something that doesn’t directly afflict them? I’ve seen it rarely, but when I have, it stands alone as perhaps the ultimate sign of selfless compassion. It’s something I have not been able to achieve myself, and that bothers me.

15. WHITE PRIVILEGE IS A REAL THING. MALE PRIVILEGE IS A REAL THING. HETEROSEXUAL PRIVILEGE IS A REAL THING.

If you’re a white, straight man, I don’t hate you, but you’ve got to acknowledge that not being discriminated against for one of the Big 3 (sex, sexuality and race) is not just a head start in life, but a continuous, often invisible, unjustly powerful boost to your sense of self. A boost that many don’t have. Playing dumb is the easy option, so don’t. Also, see point 14.

16. Learning to say “yes” when “no” comes more naturally is to blame for some of my greatest memories.

17. THE MORE I LEARN, THE LESS I REALISE I KNOW

Here’s a tough one. It’s unpleasant to relinquish that wonderful youthful ideal that we “know it all”. As I grow, I realise how much there is I don’t know about the world or the person standing next to me. Saying “you’re right” to someone else is immensely empowering. Succumbing to the idea that a friend possesses wisdom in an area you don’t is freeing. Finding the balance between defending your own viewpoints while also being open to those of others’ will seemingly remain a lifelong undertaking.

18. RELIGION DIVIDES

I’m not an atheist, and this is an uncomfortable one to write as I see much beauty in religion, but I see as much — if not more — pain in it. Organised religion is a destructive, dividing force. It alienates individuals and entire nations from each other. It is a barrier to love, friendship, growth, joy, enlightenment and a ton of other experiences that fall under the category of “human nature”. Those who interpret their religion in seemingly any way they choose use it to justify their bigotry. It hurts to see, and I would like to see those who believe in their faith fully to speak out more often on how damaging it can be in the wrong hands, or if misconstrued.

19. Give the world drama, and the world will hastily return the favour.

20. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Life gets rough, and true strength is admitting when you aren’t coping. Unfortunately, people can only be there for us if we allow them to. Swallow thy pride.

21. MAKE LIGHT OF YOUR ‘FLAWS’

Once I grasped the concept of genetics and realised I was always going to leave a less confident first impression than my peers (abbreviated height, sometimes inaudible voice), I knew I had to find another way to get by. And so, my quirks became something for me to laugh at. Doing this extended into adulthood; for example, my (paralysing) fear of public speaking only became manageable because I often spoke of and joked about it to friends. The lesson here is: go forth and celebrate your fat ass, wonky eye, nervous twitch, busted knee, balding head, eccentric fidgeting, hideous laugh or whatever else makes you a freak like the rest of us.

22. Career prosperity has very little to do with prospering as a human being.

23. Time heals. Every time.

24. READ MORE BOOKS

I’ve Netflixed and streamed to within an inch of my life over the last couple of months. In between, I’ve read some books, and you know what? Books still win — they provide an in-your-bones sense of connection and satisfaction that the glossiest 4k TV show never could.

25. Doing good really does feel good.

26. YOU DON’T NEED TO GET MARRIED

Deep in the recesses of my heart, I am a hopeless romantic (deep, and in the recesses, because the messiness of life has largely buried this part of me away). Because of this hopeless romanticism ideal of mine (the one buried imperceptibly deeply, in case you forgot), I still appreciate and respect the commitment of marriage. But along with many other millennials, I now view it as one of many potential avenues — and not the sole path — to a fulfilling life.

27. Making peace with the present may just be the irrefutable source of happiness.

28. To be at peace with your family is to be at peace in the soul. Forgive, accept, thank, appreciate and love them.

29. YOU DON’T NEED TO CHANGE THE WORLD

Every generation has its fundamental failings. For us, the pressure is to not merely succeed, but to achieve some lofty level of fame and stature, a damaging ideal to live by. The world needs followers and early adopters as much as it needs visionaries. But with the media brazenly exposing us to the gulf between our “ordinary” lives and the guy making a million bucks from his YouTube channel, we emerge dissatisfied, aiming higher and higher, rarely pausing to appreciate the present. In the process, we lose sight of our personal values. “Everyone has a spotlight; for some, it’s on a stage, for others, it’s a lamp on a desk.”

30. I still have plenty to learn, and here’s hoping I remain open to it.