13 Valuable Lessons We Often Learn Too Late in Life
Simple yet effective ideas for better relationships and personal goals.
For the past four months, I’ve been living in the same small city in Central Vietnam. While I do love the country now, I did not plan to stick around for so long.
Yet, I don’t feel stuck here, even though the borders are closed.
When doing my research on what I still have to visit in the area, I came across a cool restaurant in a nearby city. It’s only 20 minutes by bus and since my birthday was coming up I’ve decided to go on a road trip.
So here I am, on my 28th birthday, sitting on a wooden bench, and waiting for a Buddha bowl that looked very promising on the menu.
An American I’ve just met tells me they’re going to have a big yoga event this weekend and there are a few people around discussing the last details.
Apart from that, the 3-level restaurant feels empty.
But I don’t think too much about how it would normally be. I got used to seeing empty places that were once packed. I take my mind off everything that has happened in the world lately and I dive deeper.
For the first time, I look back and write down some of the most important lessons I’ve learned in these 28 years I’ve been around.
So buckle up ’cause it’s going to be a 10-minute ride and we’ll make 3 stops along the way:
- The Valley of Relationships
- Money Canyon
- and Personal Development Boulevard.
Let’s start our journey, shall we?
1. Putting Relationships on a Pedestal Will Ruin Them
Hollywood movies make you dream about soulmates and best friends but putting such a big label on a relationship might be why it ends.
Thinking about your partner as your soulmate will create very high expectations. Every time they fail to meet them, your relationship dies a little bit.
The same goes for best friends. You expect them to be there for you 24/7. To have your back no matter what.
But real life is not like that. Sometimes, your best friends have to call you out on your BS. Not have your back because you’re wrong. Or they simply don’t agree.
Conflicts are bound to happen and relationships take lots of hard work. Also, they don’t always work out.
Sometimes you end up staying in a relationship longer than you should simply because you labeled it as being “the one”. So you fail to see it’s not.
2. The First Step Is Always the Hardest
It took me almost a year to find the courage to leave my country and travel full time.
I was always thinking about what’s going to happen if I run out of money after 3 months. What if I’m not gonna like it? What if I fail at traveling altogether?
I stopped overthinking when I made the first step and bought a one-way ticket to Portugal. It was out of impulse. The idea crossed my mind on a Sunday morning. I had the ticket by noon.
I still didn’t have a plan but I had a starting point and most of the time that’s all you need.
I also noticed this whenever I try to pick up a new habit or start a new project. If I force myself to make the first step, the next ones are given.
When you need to go to the gym but don’t feel like it, the most important thing to do is get out of the door. When you want to publish a new article that requires a lot of research, start by reading one study.
Get yourself in the mood. Make the first step, even if you don’t feel like it. The rest will follow. Which brings me to my next point.
3. Discipline Is All About Building Habits
No matter how passionate you are about something, you will not be in the mood for it all the time. You can be the best in your field and still feel like not doing it on a lot of days.
This is where having a system makes all the difference.
Like James Clear said in his book, Atomic Habits:
“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
4. You Have to Tell People How You Feel About Them Because Tomorrow May Never Come
I grew up in a loving family and I’ve always had a lot of friends. But very few of them expressed their feelings verbally. In my early twenties, I learned about love languages which helped me improve my relationships.
Yet, while I do agree with this theory, life has taught me that we can lose the people we love the most in the blink of an eye. And in most cases, the strongest feeling left is regret.
You regret not telling them how much they meant to you. And the idea of not being able to do it anymore is a very heavy burden to carry.
So I’ve learned to tell people how much I love them. And I advise you to do the same.
Tell your family, friends, and significant other how you feel about them. And do it often.
Don’t wait for special occasions like anniversaries, Thanksgiving, or Christmas. Sometimes, there is no tomorrow.
5. How You Spend Your Money Is More Important Than How Much You Earn
A few years ago, I’ve read The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley, and some ideas really stayed with me.
After analyzing the behavior of lots of millionaires in the USA, the author came to a few conclusions. The most important one is that if you want to be wealthy, you have to be frugal.
“If you make a good income each year and spend it all, you are not getting wealthier. You are just living high. Wealth is what you accumulate, not what you spend.” — Thomas J. Stanley
Throughout the book, he explains why some people still don’t seem to be wealthy even though they have a very high income. The conclusion was they buy things more expensive than they could afford.
The reason behind it? To impress others. If they can afford a $10,000 car, they’ll make the effort to buy one that’s worth $12,000 or even more.
“It is easier to purchase products that denote superiority than to actually be superior in economic achievement.”
And then there are the millionaires. According to Thomas J. Stanley, 90% of them have never bought a new car because they don’t think it’s worth the investment. They choose second-hand ones.
“The difference in price is a tax on your pride”, said one of the millionaires interviewed for the book.
But this idea can be applied on a smaller scale too and it also works with little things we buy on a daily basis, not just big investments.
So if money worries keep you awake at night, take a long, hard look at how you spend it. Understand what are the things that are worth paying the full price for and when it’s better to stay on a budget even if you can afford to pay more.
6. There Is No Shame in Not Knowing
Whenever somebody says a word you don’t know, ask what it means. If they mention an author, a book, or a concept new to you, ask more details about it.
Ignore anybody who frowns at you for not knowing already. Never shy away from asking questions, no matter how silly they sound in your head.
The only question that’s stupid is the one that you don’t ask.
7. Everything Sucks in the Beginning
Your first piano lessons will be anything but music to anybody’s ears. When you start running, you’ll lose your breath after 30 seconds. And I can go on forever.
“No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”
But you have to push through. Saying you are bad at something after one month of doing it, is silly. If it’s a complex skill, you may see some progress only after one year.
There are no shortcuts. If you decide you want it, stick around long enough.
8. If You Want to Improve Yourself, You Need to Observe All Your Thoughts and Reactions
Question everything. Why you envy someone you just met, why you got angry over a silly thing, why you procrastinate, why you enjoy an activity. Why, why, why.
“Learn to ask of all actions, “Why are they doing that?” Starting with your own.” — Marcus Aurelius
Understand what your triggers are. Recognize your behavioral patterns. Only by understanding your reactions, you can have control over them.
9. Success Comes in Many Forms
Half of my friends are married and have kids. They are either stay at home moms or have a job that pays the bills but doesn’t spark joy, as Marie Kondo would say.
The other half of them are focusing on their careers and have no intention of starting a family soon.
All of them are equally happy and satisfied with their choices.
As I’m slowly approaching my 30s, I start to feel the pressure of others.
People ask me questions about when I’m going to get married and have children. Oddly enough, these are not my friends. They’re strangers making small talk.
But if there’s one thing that’s clear by now, it’s that we don’t have a timeline for our lives.
There are no deadlines for getting married, nor for building a career. Decide what’s important for you and focus on that. The rest will follow.
10.Understanding How Ego Works Will Solve Half of Your Problems
At work, you wait for people to clap for you, to acknowledge your efforts. But that only feeds your ego.
Praising will not get you anything. When you stop needing it, that’s when you start making progress.
The same goes for personal relationships. Stop waiting for people to show appreciation for your gestures.
“As long as the ego runs your life, most of your thoughts, emotions, and actions arise from desire and fear. In relationships you then either want or fear something from the other person.” — Eckhart Tolle
Once you see how the ego works, you’ll be surprised how often it shows up to the party.
11. Empathy and Gratitude Are the Foundations for Everything
No matter how you look at it, the most important things in life are the relationships we have with other people and the one we have with ourselves.
Always try to see things from other people’s perspective and understand where they’re coming from.
As for gratitude, the more you practice it, the more you feel it.
12. If You Like Something, Say It Out Loud
At some point, somebody decided that we should only make compliments if we want to get something in return. I don’t know who that person is, but if you do, let me know. I’d love to have a chat.
Making a genuine compliment is one of the easiest and best things you can do for yourself and others.
Most of the time, people can’t see the good in them. Or how far they’ve come. When you remind them, their face lights up.
And it’s one of the best views you’ll get in life.
If you like or admire something, say it out loud.
Whether you compliment a dress or praise somebody’s accomplishment — small or big, it doesn’t matter.
Compliment both strangers and friends. And do it often. But always, always be honest.
13. If It’s Out of Your Control, Get It Out of Your Head
Improving yourself will improve the quality of your life. Nobody can argue that.
But you don’t have full control of your life. So stressing about external circumstances is pointless.
“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength”, as Marcus Aurelius said.
I broke the rules of the Internet. I did not make a 28-lessons-I-have-learned-in-28-years-kind-of-list. But I got 13. And I stand by all of them.
I’m a sucker for these kinds of articles and I’ll admit I always click on them, curious to know what people have learned. Curious to see what we have in common. What’s their view on life? What they take out of it. What they give back.
Most of the time, it comes down to the same things:
- the people you love are the most important
- and stressing the small things is often a very stupid thing to do
- so try to cultivate empathy
- and always be grateful for what you have
- because everything is constantly changing anyway
- but as long as you take care of your mind and body
- you’ll be able to live life on your terms
- however, understand it takes time to define them
- so be patient with yourself. And kind. Always be kind. To everyone.
While these are pretty general, there is no timeline. Everybody learns them at their own pace. I can’t tell you what’s the most important lesson you should learn.
But here is something I know for sure: there will never be a time when you can say you know enough. Or that you know everything. There is no such thing.
“As long as you live, keep learning how to live.” — Lucius Annaeus Seneca
And you can only do that by embracing everything life throws at you— the good and the bad.
Especially the bad.
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