1. Make a budget. Calculate all your expenses. Subtract the total from your net income. Use the remainder to cushion your emergency fund, retirement savings, and your short-term goals (vacation, new car, wedding, etc.).
2. Pay down your debt. I don’t care how low the interest rate is or what kind of debt it is — debt is debt. Stop justifying why you’re only putting down the minimum payment. This is stopping you from taking risks in your career, exploring your interests/hobbies, and essentially everything else that you want to do with your life. Your future self deserves a life free of financial anxiety. Please, for the love of god, create a swift debt-repayment plan and implement it now.
3. Unplug. The Internet is a wonderful place (you’re reading this right now!), but it’s important to know its role in your life. Establish boundaries. Read a physical book. Take a walk in nature. Host a night of board games with your friends. Write in a physical journal. Set aside some time every day to shut down the laptop, put away your phone and tuck away your tablet.
4. Slow down. A consequence of being part of a digital era, we feel the pressure to do something all the time. We have to be the all-star at work. We have to update our social media. We have to have an immaculate home. We have to look our best 24/7. Just say no. Sooner rather than later you’ll burn out and crash. Let some things fall to the wayside — intentionally.
5. Develop habits, not goals. Happiness is a byproduct of progress, not achievement. The problem with goals is that it’s a constant treadmill — you accomplish one, you set your sights on another. It’s much more fulfilling to concentrate on developing daily habits & routines. For example, waking up early, exercising each day, or bringing your lunch to work 4 out of the 5 days of the week. Sooner than later, these habits will become ingrained and you’ll be living a happier and healthier lifestyle.
6. Learn to live with people you dislike. I don’t mean live in a literal sense — I mean not losing your shit when you encounter sexist, racist, homophobic or just, in general, rude, ungrateful or ignorant people. This has been the most difficult things that I have had to work on. I’m a minority at about three intersections (a woman of colour who is queer), so quite understandably I get a little sensitive when someone says something ignorant about one of the communities of which I, in some part, belong to. But… these people will populate society until I die. I learned that it’s okay to not get along with everyone. I don’t need to waste my time trying to change their mind.
7. Experiment, take risks, and make plenty of mistakes. Now, more than ever, is the perfect time to experiment. We are the sum of our experiences — so experience as much as possible. Make mistakes, learn from them, and then go on and make different ones. I don’t mean this to insinuate that you should get all the mistakes out of your system while you’re young, because you’ll certainly make mistakes when you’re older. I mean take bold actions now so you can learn more about yourself in the process.
8. Pursue your hobbies. How many times have you told someone, “I would love to take a class on [x],” or, “This sports league looks great,” but never actually followed-through on signing up? Or decided that it’s not worth your money? Or even worse, determine that you have no one to go with and don’t want to do it alone? We don’t take our interests seriously — to our detriment. It’s as if we would rather sit at home instead mind-numbingly scrolling through social media or going out drinking with our friends, as if we don’t do that enough. Don’t get bogged down by the details of the thing. Just explore what you like, make new friends, and see where it leads. You’ll be a happier and more fulfilled person because of it.
9. Read books, not just blogs and articles. I’ve mentioned before that I consider reading a duty. No, it’s not because it’ll help you succeed in school or in your career, although it greatly increases your odds, but because you’ll be a better person for it. There is a literally a book out there to help you understand and process every single emotion you have ever felt and will ever feel in your life. Books help you become a more nuanced and thoughtful person. Books humble you. Books validate you. Books challenge you. Books grow you. Books save you from making perilous mistakes. Books accompany you when you’re feeling alienated and misunderstood.
10. Accept that progress is not linear, especially in your career. We have this unhealthy misconception that our career trajectory goes something like this: attend school → secure entry-level job → put in work for 1 – 3 years → receive steady promotions → end up in upper management. In reality, it looks more like this: school → take a break → work a low-wage job → return to school → work another low-wage job → quit to work at another low-wage job → question all your life choices → pick up a few side-hustles → get promoted at work → catch a lucky break → start earning a decent income doing what you love.
11. Learn how to be present. Seriously. In the words of Brianna Wiest, “The past is obsolete and the future is pending. You may attach yourself to these concepts, they are just figments of your imagination. It is a false comfort you get from them. Learn to be comforted and even astounded at what you have right now, and how beautiful it is.” Appreciate what it means to be alive now, not what it will mean to be alive in five years from now. Social media throws out all these qualifiers for happiness: You just need to be debt free and then you will be happy. You just have to buy this shirt and you will effortlessly cool and then you will be happy. You just need to wake up at 5:00 a.m. every morning and be productive as f*ck and you will be happy. You don’t need to do any of these things in order to appreciate all the wonderful things in your life that you have already. That’s not being unambitious. That’s pragmatic gratitude.
12. Take things slow. Life is (usually) much longer than you think. Not everything requires your immediate attention. You don’t need to cross things off your To Do List as fast as possible. You don’t need to overwork yourself to chase a promotion that you want to receive by some arbitrary deadline you set for yourself. Relax. Take a deep breath. Take time to meander, laze around, and, most importantly, think! Decide to take the long way home. Explore a new neighbourhood in your city. Spend an entire evening watching terrible reality tv (yes, you can watch tv). Enjoy yourself. Enjoy the journey of your becoming. As Seneca famously said, “Life, if well lived, is long enough.”
13. Stop talking about what you’re going to do and just do it. With the rise of social media, we run into the problem of putting the cart before the horse; talking the talk before walking the walk. We need to stop doing that. As I start new projects, whether it’s practicing law or pursuing my writing, I have to constantly remind myself that it’s much better to just work on things privately and release it when it’s done. Have the results speak for itself.
14. Evaluate where your sources of information comes from. We think we understand a particular issue or topic because we read a few articles about it from a newspaper, online publication or, perhaps more accurately, a blogger or writer we enjoy. But instead of just taking their word for it, we need to take a step back and see what biases, perspectives or political leanings that the source has. I’m not saying that it’s terrible to receive information from sources that align with your opinions or perspectives, I’m simply stating that we need to recognize that.
15. Construct the environment you need in order to facilitate “deep work.” Do you work best at home? Or do you enjoy working alongside other creatives in a co-working space? Do you listen to music while you work? Or can you only think when it’s absolutely silent? Determine what’s the most optimal setting for you to do your best work.
16. Don’t live for today. Live for tomorrow. And the week after that. And the month after that. For some reason, we experience dissonance from our future selves; we can’t connect with who we will be in 10 years. That’s why we have no problem eating tons of junk food, going for long periods of time without exercising, and impulsively buying ephemeral pleasures instead of contributing to our retirement savings. If we stay on this path, our future self is going to hate us. Start creating habits that will help ourselves out in a year, 5 years, 10 years from now. It’s not self-restraint. It’s self-discipline.
17. Ensure your actions sync up with your words. The people whose opinions you value don’t care about how much you make, what you wear, or what car is parked in your garage. People care about your character, the respect you give to others, and the commitments you make and keep. Build a reputation on being someone of integrity and principles.
18. Stop saying what people want to hear. If you’re honest, and you have some evidence to back up your position, people will respect you much more than simply being a mouthpiece for their pre-existing beliefs. Sucking up to people, whether it’s a boss or an influencer, does no one a favour. Be willing to be critical, when the situation calls for it, and hold firm on your beliefs. Good decisions, or the journey towards making decisions, are never based on “yes men (or women).” Have the courage to stand out, if you really do have a valid and unique contribution to make. People might disagree on the merits of the opinion, but they will respect you.
19. Be unabashedly ambitious about the real things. If your definition of a good life is to live out of a camper and drive across the country for the rest of your life, then be stubbornly unwavering about it. Do what it takes to get there. Hey, it may not be my idea of a good time, but at least it’s a more purposeful goal than just earning a certain level of income to buy status symbols.
20. Ask yourself the hard questions. Underneath the expensive clothes, accessories, and home — who are you really? What do you stand for? What will you defend? What matters to you? What makes up your ideal day? Who do you want to surround yourself with? What do you want to achieve? What gifts can you contribute to the world? Answer the tough questions, before someone else answers them for you.