I am forty this year, and though I still feel like I’m sixteen, there are a great many scars that remind me I am not. But this isn’t about me, not really, it’s about trying to offer you lemonade.
Don’t settle. Work out what your dreams are – pursue them. Regardless of everything else, never let them become background noise. The things your heart sings about are the things you will regret the most if you don’t do them.
Don’t leap. It’s a bit like learning the difference between a high school crush, lust and actual love. It feels the same at first. If the passion you are chasing is something that will alter your life, then you owe it to yourself to determine if this is a good or bad thing. Take on some work experience – no one I have met has ever refused free labour. No time? Then consider short courses to bridge knowledge gaps. It doesn’t matter how you achieve it – but you need a real world taste of experience and the knowledge to determine if it’s love … or just a crush.
Money isn’t everything, but it helps make the ride smoother. It is also a two edged sword. It can provide freedom. It can also trap. Having money can allow you to follow your dreams. Having money can mean being able to afford a project or undergo a change. However, taking on a mortgage can trap you and make you a slave quicker than you can spit. That said. If you are brave enough, then remember, regardless of how poor you are, you can start again and you can rebuild a comfortable life in ten years. I know. I’ve done it. There is no such thing as “too late”. There is always a choice, there is always another chance. The only thing that stops us is ourselves.
It’s OK to change your idea of what to do with your life more than once. Nothing is written in stone. Make up your own mind and feel free to change it. That said: plan. Whatever you choose, have a plan for going in, going through and coming out.
Struggling is not the same as failing. Life is not easy. Nothing ever is. Anything worth having is worth working for. Just because you are following your passion, does not mean it will not be a struggle. This also goes for relationships. Struggling is not a sign of failure but just a pothole along the road.
Make an effort to know more about the world today than you knew yesterday. I honestly believe that the more we learn, the more we do. The more we do, the greater the world around us becomes. This is why I have always taken on an additional challenge to myself every year. Whether it is through undertaking a course, picking up a new hobby, researching a topic I am ignorant of or a challenging project … I am continuously attempting to stretch out my skills and abilities, my understanding and my knowledge. I believe everybody should take on this basic attitude. Your mind is like any other part of your body — it requires just as much exercise, practice and discipline as any other muscle or skill you wish to develop.
The power of knowledge is the illumination it brings. You don’t know what you don’t know. Ignorance is not stupidity, but it is a set of blinkers. The only way to see and understand more, is to be exposed to more. Science, art, humanities, politics, philosophy … each subject uncovers a new set of shadows, and each illumination expands to allow your mind to think new thoughts.
When listening to advice, hearing a pitch or even listening to a politician, always ask yourself, no matter what has been said – who benefits most from what has been stated? If the answer doesn’t include “my country, my community, my family or me” then who is it really for and why are you entertaining it?
There are always three sides to the truth. That of one side, that of the other side – and then there is the truth. Think of it as a maths problem. We can gather the values of p(A) and the values of p(B) and we can then try to determine the probability of truth or p(T). Now, sometimes you add two and two and get five. If you look closely, it may be because one or both were very large values of two, so, perhaps, the p(T) is correct … but it’s impossible for two and two to equal three because regardless of the smallness of the values of two, it just cannot be computed that way. So, while it may be true that we may never know the truth, with a little logic, we can spot the lies. Never stop trying to spot the lies as you aim towards the truth
Regardless of your beliefs, assume you have one life, make it one you are proud of. Remember no one lies on their deathbed wishing they had finished one more ten hour shift! Do you know what they do regret? They regret that they did not have the courage to live a life true to themselves, to express their feelings and to have let themselves be happier. So, do yourself a favour – lie down, imagine it’s your deathbed, and start reciting the story of your life … What is your story? What are the highlights? Who are you reciting it to? Now, work back from there … what do you need to make your life meet that story half way and continue from there?
Your life is yours and no one else’s. Your choices are yours and yours alone. You can complain about bad advice and a great many things, but at the end of the day in the cold hard light of clichés you made that choice. Acknowledge it. I know that I fear letting go of the financial prison I am in because my anxiety about being in it is less than the anxiety of letting it all go and starting again. That understanding helps. It becomes my choice. What are your choices? Why did you make them? Make peace with them.
That said, there will always be regrets. The trick is not to avoid them, but to choose the regrets you will regret the least.
Deal with your own demons. Your past is your past Don’t blame others for the demons you see. It is easy to see demons in the actions of others. However, we forget that our past and our demons are just that — with an eye of objectivity, the reality is that the other person may very well not even be aware of what your demons are and why they were triggered.
Do well by doing good. It really is that simple. The promise of an external reward – current, belated or in some eternal afterlife – is no reason to commit an act – good or otherwise. I honestly believe that Good acts are a reward in themselves. Doing something for the recognition of others, for the collection of “karmic points” is misguided. Surely, if you are performing an act to check of an item on the list then you are no different than those who think that paying a priest will get them a free ticket to the pearly gates. Even If you believe in that sort of reward system, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t count.
Actively try and lessen the suffering of others. There is rarely (if ever) any reward in enforcing, promoting or extending the suffering of others. So why be part of that? I never see any compelling reason for any of the acts of harm or hate others inflict, but can tell you that each individual act of compassion, each individual act of kindness and each individual act of simple attention and acknowledgement has provided a warm and loving spark. Every. Single. Time.
Recognise the gold that is in friendship. Throughout our lives, we meet so many people. There are some that are beyond precious. Try and recognise them. Make an effort to keep them alive. We all get caught up in our own lives and it is so easy to then let friendships slip We will regret not giving friendships and loved ones the time and effort that they deserve. Remember that everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
Relationships are three legged stools. All relationships – platonic or amorous – rely on a seat of trust that rests above the three stool legs of communication, compromise and respect.
Be honest with yourself about how you feel about someone.In the words of a wonderful friend Michelle (@inthefade): If you ever have even an ounce of doubt about a relationship, don’t think a commitment will ever erase that doubt. A ring does nothing to make the lingering voices in your head shut up and a marriage license does nothing to quell the doubts. Explore those doubts. Be honest with yourself and everyone else about them.
Love is not without risk nor pain. There seems to be some kind of fallacy that love is an all powerful, magical force and that it somehow will make things better. I think that in fact, what makes it magical is that we will make an effort to make things better because we love someone, regardless of perceived insults, injuries or pain they cause.
If you don’t make time, there will never be time. Life is always busy. Always. If we don’t want to wake up one day and say “we should have spent more time together” or “I never did get around to doing that” then you need to just plan to spend it. Don’t find time, make it.
Have the courage to live a life true to yourself – not the life others expect of you. I speak of this as much from regret as experience. Look back on your life – regardless of your current age – and ask yourself: how many dreams have you fulfilled? How many choices have you made? How many choices have you avoided? How many opportunities have you grasped and how many have you squandered? See also the “Don’t Settle” and “Don’t Leap”.
Remember: Work Hard, but Play Harder. Don’t spend your life on lives on the treadmill of a work existence. Work is not your life. Your friends and family are. Missing parties, birthdays, anniversaries – these are not things you can re-schedule. You can’t re-do them “in lieu” and you can never make up for them with a Tax bonus. It is easier to do without a new TV than without an extra hug from your significant other.
Breath deep and take courage – express your feelings and share your thoughts. The only thing one will regret more than being a workaholic, is being the quiet one who settled for a mediocre existence because what they thought and what was important to them was kept to themselves. Don’t let illnesses relating to bitterness or resentment be the cause of your lying on that deathbed.
Health brings a freedom you do not realise you possess … until you no longer have it. Look after yourself. The time spent in looking after your health is an investment in the future and in the ability to accomplish things you want to achieve.
I do not have the answers. I’m sure my list of lessons will grow as I keep aging … but that’s what I have for now.
Other than “knowing it doesn’t mean it’s easy to change it?” Have I missed anything?
Here’s my background story in 30 seconds: Left home at 14, returned at 15 then left at 16. Worked like a shaved monkey as a cashier, store man, grocery jock and waiter to get through high school and pay rent. From there I could not afford to go to University, even though I desired it, so back to work as a labourer and masseur. I was lucky that I found “computers easy” and fell into the industry. I have worked an average of 60hr weeks over the last 20 years to reach a level normally only reserved for post graduates. I have worked for all of that time because I had too.
Where these lessons come from.
I have made a lot of mistakes. A lot. No really, huge amounts of mistakes.
Sometimes these were youthful indiscretion, others were through pure ignorance. There’s also a lot through utopian naivety. Far too many where stubbornness was a major factor. Most often, through not having the brains to ask someone for help. Failing to get another opinion. Asking how they perceive the situation. Worse, surrounding myself and only listening to those people who thought the same and agreed with me. I think you get the idea … Mistakes a plenty in my life.
I say all of this because its important to learn from mistakes. It’s also important to understand that you are not limited to learn from just your own mistakes.
Another mistake I have always been guilty of, is assuming that dogged hard work will get you through, that passion, and a motivation to succeed is all you need to get ahead.
To some degree, that’s true. If you are seeking a life measured by Job titles and an impressive Resume.
My life was a mess. Cleaning up the mistakes of the previous few decades was difficult. Wiping away debts and stopping the chase of a dream of success that was not based on my desires.
The biggest mistake I made in all of my life? Settling.
I settled for a house in suburbia, settled for a job that offered money. Settled for a life that I was told I should aim for.
Recycled with edits from a collection of personal blog posts over the last few years.