1. No matter how far down the wrong road you’ve traveled, always turn back.
People hate to lose time “invested” in a task they have miscalculated on. Time is the most scarce resource of life, yet its taken for granted by those who are too proud to admit they made a mistake.
Not too long ago, I chased a girl I shouldn’t have. The warning signs were there from the start, but I ignored them because I was seduced with the idea of sleeping with her. By date five, I went so far in the wrong direction that turning back seemed like the harder route to take. I couldn’t just let go of all the money, time, and emotional energy I put in. The easy decision is to coast and let the mistake ride out, but it’s always the wrong decision. You must cut your losses.
There is nothing wrong with making a mistake, but you make things worse by staying blind to your own error. Don’t bother trying to fix a situation you should have avoided in the first place.
2. Comfort is dangerous.
Unless you are of old age and already a scholar of the world, your main focus should be growth. If you are comfortable with what you are doing, there is a good chance you are not stretching yourself to the limits of your ability.
The director of my old department had a habit of putting up motivational quotes during his presentations. I had a favorite: “There is no growth in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growth zone.” You get drawn into comfort and habit because it offers you stability and peace of mind, but at the same time this decreases your motivation to take risks and learn other things. Unless you are ready to die, choose growth.
3. You learn the most when things go wrong.
It’s hard to learn about yourself if everything goes right: there is no need for introspection or analysis. But when things go wrong, your body is put through stress and your mind is called up to perform. You are forced to break things down to come up with solutions, trying things you’ve never tried. This is the only time you really grow as a person.
In my field of work, Murphy’s Law is the rule. Things always go wrong, and for hours I can be staring at a graph or piece of equipment, dissecting the problem to its component parts only to put it back together again. But when things go right, my day is pretty uneventful; I’m a zombie that just goes through the motions. Solve problems, learn from them, and then put that experience in your toolbox when you encounter something similar in the future. Because you will.
4. Always stand up for yourself.
Don’t take bullshit from anyone, whether it be from your boss, lover, or friend. No one in this world is more important than you are.
I have been disrespected by flakey women countless times. I accepted the disrespect because I thought it was normal to take a little bit of abuse to get something I wanted. But I no longer believe that. If you have a belief that it is okay to be treated negatively, it’s just a matter of time until it happens — repeatedly. Don’t let people flake, rag on you, or put you down. These are things that are not normal, things that will only lower your mood. Don’t be a pushover, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself, and don’t be afraid of confrontation.
5. Know when to move on.
After you’ve hit the point of diminishing return, the energy you put in is much less than what you get out, whether it be from jobs, relationships, friendships, or hobbies. Don’t wait until things get stale; by then you’ve waited too long.
I used to go to clubs and watch how bartenders worked. The more I watched them, the more I wanted to be one. I was convinced that I would make an excellent bartender. I took a week off from work to go to bartending school and eventually got a job at a popular hotel bar. The first couple months were incredible: I was meeting people, learning the trade, and having a good time. But the initial rush hid things that I did not like, such as incompetent management, cheap or rude customers, drama-loving coworkers, and odd hours. By month nine I decided that my experience was complete. I quit and regained my weekend leisure time. Things that you really wanted to do one month or one year ago may not be worth it for you today.
6. Respect your health and body by exercising and eating right.
There is no reason to treat yourself like a science experiment, wondering what will happen to your body after decades of neglect or abuse.
You only one have one life to live. Exercise and good nutrition are proven to prolong that life and make it more vibrant with less suffering. So what’s your excuse? It’s a poor bet to let your body atrophy because you wanted to sit on the couch and eat a bag of potato chips. The most unfortunate thing that could happen to you is to get a disease or sickness that could have been prevented by doing something your body would have very much appreciated.
7. Have a project.
Always be working towards a near-term goal. It’s nice to have one large purpose in life, but pick some smaller goals that you can accomplish is a few years or less: buying a house, learning a second language, running a marathon, eliminating credit card debt (through simpler living), traveling the world, etc. The project should be your passion… for a while.
In Venezuela I hiked up to some cabin so a Frenchman could take me on a horseback riding tour through the Andes mountains. He spoke good English so we had the opportunity to talk during breaks, where he told me his life story though his “projects”: short goals he would have that would usually lead to something else. The project that led him to the Venezuela was the desire to build a boat from scratch. When a hurricane washed ashore his boat was destroyed and he wound up in a strange city where he met his future wife. He asked me point-blank what my project was and I did not have an answer.
Instead of aimlessly floating through life, waiting until something happens to you, pick something interesting you like and drive towards it. Even if it doesn’t lead you anywhere, the journey is sure to teach you a bit about life.
8. Don’t nag, complain, or whine.
No one wants to hear it, and it makes you look like a miserable person. Negative energy is contagious; bad people and bad events always follow.
I had a colleague who did not hit the genetic lottery. She was short, stumpy, and unattractive. She did not hide the fact that she had trouble meeting men. While she could only do little to control her physical appearance, she could control how she acts around others. She could be lively, sexy, thoughtful, positive, funny. But she was not. She chose to be constantly negative, complaining about everything and talking about how bad life is. It was impossible to be around her, and I won’t be surprised if you tell me she has amassed a fine collection of cats by now.
Remember: your energy is tied into your future. If you are constantly negative, you are blocking yourself from enjoying positive things.
9. Be like water, flowing effortlessly through your environment.
A weak person is easily affected by the daily problems of life. Instead of fighting things that are sure to come up, adapt to them and solve them rationally. Things won’t always go your way.
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” –
Welcome to the human condition. Like housing prices or stocks, there will be peaks and valleys in your life that you probably cannot control. Car breaks down. Job layoff. Disfiguring acne breakout. Crime victim. Broken heart. You could attempt to buffer yourself from these negative events, but it will limit your personal freedom and options in life. Instead, accept that there will be both good and bad; how you react to both determines your character and resilience as a person. You can panic like most people when confronted with a tough challenge, or you can sit down and visualize what it would be like to get out of the mess you are in. What’s the next step you should take? Time will go by, and the negative will soon be a distant memory.
10. Treat money as a means to an end.
Money should not be your final goal. There may be comfort in a pile of cash but there is little lasting happiness. Instead, treat money as a means to providing you with experiences that have meaning and pleasure.
There are two things you could do with your money: accumulate material possessions or pursue life experiences. Can you guess which one makes you more happy? If it’s so obvious, why do people dedicate a large chunk of their waking hours every week in jobs that have long ago satisfied basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing, and leisure? When you live in a country whose government is funded through debt and whose economic health is judged through “comsumer” spending, it’s not hard to see how one has to be deprogrammed from falling into the automatic habit of spending money on objects. That money is better spent finding things you love that give you fulfillment.
A million books and a million different perspectives. Until you can learn from first-hand experience, learn from the experience of others. Absorb their ideas and see how they fit into your view of the world.
One of the best uses of your time is spent reading non-fiction, which has the knowledge, information, and analysis that helps define the world we live in. Think of a bookstore or library as a collection of brains from all the scholars of the history of the world, who have taken the time to write and teach what they know. I can spend a lifetime traveling the world ten times over but not notice things that others have already written down.
12. Have no expectations.
When you enter situations with expectations, you limit your behavior and thinking. Having an idealized outcome in your mind beforehand closes yourself off to new experiences.
Once I met a girl who warned me several times that I wasn’t going to get anywhere. She assumed I wanted to be somewhere else other than the present, that what I was doing now was not what I really wanted to do. As long as you are getting the most out of the current moment – and enjoying it – what happens next should not be the dominant thought in your mind. We already see the world through a filter, and expecting things to happen in the future distorts that filter even more.
What did happen next with her was something totally different from what I’m used to, something that I would have closed myself off to if I had the usual in mind. Having expectations put you into a linear and rigid mode of thinking, blinding you towards different outcomes.
13. Be very picky when choosing friends.
It’s our friendships that create the spontaneous happiness in our lives, experienced most with people who match our personality. By spending time with the right people, we eliminate the drama that comes from more superficial friendships.
On any given night, there are only three guys I can call to go out with; guys who I trust and who I know I’m capable of having the most amount of fun with. For people who collect friends like trading cards, I wonder if they have taken a look at the hidden cost to maintaining those friends: misunderstandings, gossip, backstabbing, fights. These things are headaches and make life a little less enjoyable. Think of friendships as the foundation of your life, the constant that gets you through the long, stressful days. You don’t want that built on slimey ground.
It is not a good idea to experiment in critical situations. Practice when it doesn’t matter so that you are preapred for the real deal. If you can’t get real-world practice, at least run the situation in your head.
My plane departed Merida, Venezuela at 6:30 in the morning. I had to be at the airport an hour before, at a time where I wasn’t sure if I could easily get a taxi. Only 1.5 miles away, I figured a good back-up plan was to walk to the airport, but I wasn’t going to risk taking this walk without practice, especially since the streets are narrow and dangerous. The day before departure I took my time walking and found the safest route to the airport, memorizing key landmarks and noting potential danger spots. When it was time to leave, I couldn’t find a taxi and executed what I already rehearsed. My route was well-lighted and I got there in one piece without getting lost.
Instead of leaving things totally chance, do what you can to lessen the likelihood of failure, or even worse – disaster.