7 Valuable Life Lessons From the President of Uruguay
And why it’s never too late
He went from spending years in prison to becoming the president of Uruguay.
Jose ‘Pepe’ Mujica, now former president of Uruguay, is a remarkable man.
When he was elected as the 40th president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica announced that he’ll donate 90 percent of his monthly salary to charities.
He refused to move to the presidential palace and stayed in his 2 bedroom farmhouse, where he lives with his wife. He even kept and drove his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.
While his political agenda is debatable, this man has many valuable life lessons to teach us all. Mujica’s concept of life and his personal lifestyle are a rare sight in today’s world.
So without further ado, here are seven valuable life lessons we should all learn from Jose ‘Pepe’ Mujica:
1. Find your passions and stay passionate.
“I worked the fields for a living and then dedicated myself to the struggle for change, to improve life in my society.”
Mujica has two main passions: a deep love and connection to nature, and a true desire to improve others’ lives through equality. He is a man of the land and a man of people.
Born in 1935 to a farmer father, it was almost expected that Mujica would fall in love with working in the fields.
When he was 13, he became a National Party activist. Later on, he was a leading member of Tupamaros, a guerrilla organization, who opposed the Uruguayan government up to a year before Uruguay’s military regime began. During those years, Mujica was imprisoned several times and spent a total of 13 years in jail.
He was freed in 1985, following the restoration of democracy in Uruguay.
Mujica went on to form a left-wing political party and became a senator in 1999. Six years later, he became a minister of Agriculture in Uruguay.
At the age of 70, Mujica was finally able to combine both of his passions and practice them on a daily basis.
“My goal is to achieve a little less injustice in Uruguay. To help the most vulnerable and to leave behind a political way of thinking.”
In 2009, he won the election to become the president of Uruguay.
To serve his goal, Mujica increased the minimum wage in Uruguay by more than 50 percent. He contributed most of his salary to charities, in particular those who supported single mothers. “For me, it’s not a sacrifice. It’s a duty,” he claims. His fight against inequality continued. He passed laws to legalize abortions and gay marriage in his country. He achieved what he always wanted—he gave every single person a chance to live life in their own way.
It teaches us the importance of learning and developing passions from a young age. But that alone is not enough. You have to pursue your passions and stick by them, no matter what. By following his passions, especially through rough times, Mujica was able to live his vision.
2. Do it your own way!
“There’s nothing short term. No victory around the corner.”
Mujica might set a great example for many around the world, yet he was a member of an armed group for years. He admits having robbed banks. “I didn’t rob for myself. I expropriated resources for a struggle,” he said.
So what is the lesson here?
Whatever you are pursuing, be it a work of art or a more traditional type of work — there is no right way to do it.
All those people you take inspiration from — they all took first steps that no one has ever taken before. They walked in their own path.
Yes, they failed a lot, but they succeeded more than they have ever imagined!
Here’s a little example:
You want to bake banana muffins. You search for a good recipe that others have followed and recommended. You then follow the steps, by the book.
You will probably end up with decent banana muffins, but would they have your own signature? Would they taste like unique banana muffins? Probably not. If you get creative and spice it up — you will get a different result. The first few batches might be disgusting, but eventually, your banana muffins will have a heavenly taste. Most importantly — the muffins will be truly yours.
So go ahead — create your own life’s recipe. There is no right and wrong.
3. Be humble
“I have a way of life that I don’t change just because I am a president.”
Even when he succeeded and became president, Mujica stayed humble.
“A president is a high-level official who is elected to carry out a function. He is not a king. Not a god. He is not the witchdoctor of a tribe who knows everything. He is a civil servant.”
We often link the word humble with money, but it is not just that.
The ‘President of Uruguay’ title did not define Jose Mujica.
Respect has to be earned. If you get a new title, be it “rich”, “president” or “CEO” — it doesn’t make you worth even a fraction more than you did before. You earn your dignity by having quality values and by sticking to them.
When you earn true respect, it’s only because of who you already are — so there’s no reason why you wouldn’t stay humble.
4. If you do what you love, money is irrelevant
“I live with little. Just what’s necessary. I am not tied down to material things. Why? So I can have more free time. To do what? What I love.”
We live in a world where money seems like the only reward we can get.
We value success in terms of fame, power, and money. But the truth is — money is irrelevant when you do what you truly love.
“I earn more than I need, even if it’s not enough for others.”
With 90 percent of his salary donated to charities, Mujica was left with a salary of $775 a month (roughly the average monthly salary in Uruguay).
“I can live well with what I have,” he says about his old car and his modest 2 bedroom house.
It’s almost impossible to disconnect from our materialistic way of life.
I mean, it must better to have a new BMW.
But is it, though?
Something is broken, deep inside of us. We are exposed to thousands of commercials a day and we truly believe that consumption is good for us. But if a car is a tool to take you from A to B, then why would you enslave yourself to buy a fancy one?
Mujica practiced his self-awareness throughout most of his life, even in prison. He knows that any change in his lifestyle would be a mere distraction.
“when you buy something, you’re not paying money for it. You’re paying with the hours of life you had to spend earning that money.”
If you are reading this and thinking: “well, but it would be nice to have a bigger house or a new car” then I urge you to take time and think about it.
Is this thought truly yours? Is it actually meaningful to you, the real you?
5. You are only poor if you think you are
“Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle and always want more and more.”
“The world’s poorest president.” It comes as no surprise that Mujica was labeled that way by worldwide media. His lifestyle is completely opposite to our ideal one. His way of life seems boring and empty to us.
“Poor are the ones who describe me so,” says Mujica.
Our narrow perspective is that having more money = a better life.
But here is a man, who refused to take his $12,000 monthly-income.
It’s illogical. Would you give up the lottery prize if you won it?
“I am not advocating poverty. I am advocating sobriety.”
Our definition of the word poor is… well, poor. We made it dependent on the amount of money one has. You have a lot of it = rich. You have little of it = poor. But the truth is — you can be a rich person with lots of money or a poor person with lots of money. Or as Jose Mujica wisely said: “my definition of poor are those who need too much, because those who need too much are never satisfied.”
6. You are free
“Freedom is having time to live.”
There is no price for your freedom unless you set it.
We are always free to move and free to speak. We were born with a free spirit. Only we can give away our own freedom — when we stop valuing it.
“I’m free when I have time to spend on things I love which may be different for you and for her. That’s freedom.”
If you want to worry what everybody else think of you — that’s fine. Just be aware of the price you pay for it — your freedom.
If we want to be truly free, we have to be aware. Aware of our choices. Aware of our passions. We have to practice our awareness day by day and constantly check if we lost sight of our freedom.
You always have a free choice. No matter how small a decision is or how tricky the situation may be — the choice is always yours.
“I may appear to be an eccentric old man… But this is a free choice.”
7. Less is more
“If you don’t have many possessions, then you don’t need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them, and therefore you have more time for yourself.”
In reality, most of those who live a minimalistic life do it solely because they oppose a materialistic life. And it just would not work for them because a true minimalistic life can’t be forced.
Our lives are based on consumption. We do it because we don’t know any other way. It seems like our only door to happiness. Buying new shoes, going away for the weekend…
We were never given any tools to explore our inner world. We were never taught how to achieve happiness by following our passions, our instincts.
We should aspire to live an authentic life. To live with the least we need to support our inner world. For one, that might be a large gallery and a range of art supplies, and for another, it might be a high-end computer.
There’s no formula. We are all unique.
Less time spent on meaningless things is more time to focus on your passions.
It’s never too late
“The secret of happiness is to live in accordance with how one thinks. To talk to the person you carry inside. It’s the companion we carry to our grave.”
Now, at the age of 82, Mujica is still the same passionate man he always was. His post-presidency aspiration is to set up an agricultural school for young people, in his farm. He proves that it is never too late to pursue your passions.
The impact Jose Mujica made and the example he set would not be forgotten for years to come. That is undoubtedly his true legacy.
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you want to do 👏