I never dreamed I’d live this long. I mean, I assumed I would, but in my actual dreams — to this day — I have literally always been young. On October 3, 2017, I turn 35. I am now in life’s golden summer, yet older than I ever dreamed I’d be. Over the past year, I’ve done quite a bit of writing, and a hard bit of living. I was asked by a reader to sum up everything I’ve learned since I turned 34. What follows are hyper-specific life lessons I learned at key points in the past year that I’ve generalized to be practical suggestions for you.
1. Be mindful of how you spend your time, energy and attention. Life is an investment — not a transaction — and you are what you invest.
2. The greatest investment you can make is in other people. Talk to more of them. Practice kindness and curiosity when you can. People want to feel understood, inspired and empowered.
3. A full life consists of doing four things as often as possible: Learning, creating, experiencing and sharing. Learn voraciously. Create obsessively. Experience fully. Then, share what you learn, create and experience with your whole heart.
4. Learning another language feels like unlocking another world. Start fashioning your key now.
5. If you want to progress in your life, make more decisions and take more risks. Iterate through them as quickly as possible. We are not the sum of our stories — we are the sum of our choices.
6. Stop setting so many goals, so often. Instead, focus more on continuing to learn, create, experience and share. Happiness and success are side-effects and not results. The process is the point. The road to greatness is often paved in failed New Year’s resolutions. Ask yourself seriously if you want to be a matador, or if you really just want to wear a cape and hear the roar of the crowd.
7. Take on as little debt — financial and emotional — as possible. Debt robs you of your freedom and limits your options.
8. There are only four truths in life: Death, change, the present and love.
9. To find these four truths, we need to stop telling ourselves three lies:memories, thoughts and expectations. When we decouple from these, we can more adequately prepare for death, embrace change, live in the present, and love completely.
10. Most everything we feel compelled to do as humans, we do to feel less lonely and more permanent.
11. Barring extraneous circumstances, something close to your perfect day can be lived almost every day — should you make the decision to do so.
12. Don’t just share your successes — document your struggles. That which can be measured is that which can be improved.
13. Don’t hit on happy. If you’re content (but not complacent), there’s no real reason to invent problems to solve.
14. Sometimes, who you are or what you want is ahead of its time. Don’t rule it out — you may just need time to grow into yourself.
15. Barring extraneous circumstances, life almost always gets better.Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re losing your way, but if you re-frame it as blazing a new trail, you can almost always find your way back.
16. Don’t be afraid to break your own heart.
17. No one else can be your missing piece — just another puzzle that’s probably also missing pieces.
18. The minute you start doing things out of fear that someone will leave you is the same minute you start pushing them out the door.
19. That said, people will almost always come back to you. If they are good, don’t be afraid to welcome them back with open arms.
20. Always have a “Board of Directors” you can bounce your major decisions off of. There’s no need to make this a large group, but do make sure you have diversity of perspective.
21. You’ll naturally gravitate toward the road you were meant to be on. Go where you are invited. Walk through the doors that are already open, and other doors will open for you.
22. Don’t be afraid to be weird, as long as that version of weird is your authentic self. Don’t worry about disappointing people — if you know enough of them, you inevitably will. Don’t worry about living up to people’s expectations — if you know enough of them, you inevitably won’t. And you can always reinvent yourself if you want to.
23. Don’t be louder — be better. There is tremendous joy in doing something just for yourself, off the grid, away from the glare of social media. You are a human and not a lifestyle brand. Make sure how you present yourself to the world is a reflection and not a distortion.
24. There’s no reason to over-promise, and there’s no reason to over-deliver. If you merely make promises and keep them, do what you say, and say what you do, that will be more than enough.
25. Nobody cares what you can do or how good you are, they care what you can do for them, and how good you are for them.
26. Most of what you’ve been taught — by your parents, by your church, by your school, by your peers — will likely become untrue or possibly never was. Do your own thinking. Do your own research. Keep an open mind.
27. There comes a point when continuing to question everything yields diminishing returns. Make it a point to know what you think is 80% of the available information, and act on that.
28. Most of our major milestones — graduation, career, home, marriage, family — are fairly unremarkable. The paths we take to get there can be, though. Run your own race.
29. Humanity is one organism — not many. You are unique, but you are not exceptional, nor an island. Our shared struggle to be less lonely and more permanent is what binds us together.
30. Consume less social media, less TV, and read more. I get 80% of my news from the following sources: Quartz, The Economist, Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Index, The Guardian. Your mileage may vary.
31. Humility is the garden of learning. The more I know, the less I know that I know.
32. The less energy you spend breaking down the things you put into your body, the more energy you’ll have available to do other things. Drink more water. Eat more plants. Go easy on the vices. You’ll be less tired.
33. Listen to the music you love as often as you can. Music is a flavor enhancer that can add drama, euphoria and motivation to nearly any given situation.
34. The waves are not the ocean. Neither your successes nor your failures will define you. Most of what makes you yourself will be invisible to everyone else. Get to know that part of you better, and you’ll become better at riding the waves.
35. Time never comes — it only goes. This is all there is, the right moment never arrives, and you never know how old you’re going to be. Make the most of the time you have left.