As I recently celebrated another year of life and am entering a new phase of mid-life (whatever that is) I began to contemplate the lessons that I would pass on to my younger self.
Whether you are young or young at heart, it is never too late to change — or incorporate some new (and better) practices into your daily life.
Here are 10 wise lessons that I wish I knew when I was younger:
1. Don’t worry about what other people think of you.
I used to worry too much what others thought of me, of my decisions and of my actions. Eventually, I came to realize that if you’re wasting too much time seeking validation, respect or approval from others, then you won’t have time to accomplish all that you desire.
Everyone has an opinion, but in reality other’s opinions of you are based more on their history and perceptions than anything you’re actually doing. So while it’s good to ask for feedback, rely on your own assessment of you rather than others.
2. Today is what’s important.
This is a biggie on so many levels. Enjoy every moment of today, because you are not guaranteed a tomorrow. Don’t put off your dreams. Don’t wait to do, try, enjoy all of those “someday” items. Don’t tell yourself I’ll do it tomorrow. If it’s important to you, then DO IT TODAY.
Pay attention to what is happening now, to the people around you, to the task at hand and to all of the choices you make today, big and small. What you do today, determines what tomorrow will bring. Our future is set by what we decide and act on today.
3. Let it go.
What happened yesterday is over. Those unmet expectations, difficult situations, failures and conflicts are in the past. You can’t change it, so let it go. Don’t waste your energy dwelling on anger, resentment or disappointment. It only keeps you stuck in the past and holds you back from moving forward in your life.
Also, learn to let the little things roll off your back. Insults, criticisms, setbacks — let them all go. Don’t hold on to old resentments or slights. They only weigh you down.
4. It’s called work for a reason.
Success at anything takes work. When you hear about an overnight success story, don’t forget about all of the work that came before. It takes time to build a career or a business, prep work, time to learn and fail, time to build a network and a team of mentors and supporters.
You may have to do work you do not enjoy and trudge through the trenches of planning, building, refining, moving up, out, over and redefining before you get to the place where success clicks. Keep going.
5. Believe in yourself.
You are your own worst critic, and so can you be your own best supporter. If you do not have confidence in your own value, abilities and contribution, then nobody else will either. You must have faith in your intrinsic worth. We each have something to offer that is necessary and valuable, though we may not know what that something is.
You do not have to be able to see the end zone. Just because you aren’t able to visualize where you might go and how you might succeed, that doesn’t mean it will not happen. And just because you may have made mistakes and have a string of failures behind you does not mean that you can’t achieve your goals in the future. You can do far more than you can imagine.
6. Don’t burn your bridges.
You never know when a former boss, colleague, business partner or acquaintance may come in handy. Try to part on good terms, stay on good terms and never gossip about former connections. Be respectful and open to possibilities.
Maintain and foster connections on all levels. Connect others and offer your help to those you know. A wide pool of friends, peers and connections of all kinds will provide a wealthy resource of ideas and support as you go forward in life. (The exception would be dishonest, disrespectful or offensive people. Cut em loose!)
7. Money is not the most important thing.
Money is important. We all have bills to pay, I understand that completely. But in the end, or even in the middle, maybe especially in the middle, money is not the end goal. Satisfaction in a job well done, contributing to something worthwhile and finding something you enjoy doing (or figuring out how to enjoy what you do) are more motivating goals and certainly lend themselves to a happier and less stressful life.
Contrary to what you have been sold by the “lifestyles of the wealthy and happy” fallacy, money does not equate to happiness. Nor does it insulate you from pain, suffering and conflict or improve your relationships with those around you. Money is simply a currency that allows you to eat, dress and live. It is not a magic wand.
8. Don’t be afraid to stand up and stand out.
Take a stand. Speak up. Stand out from the crowd. If something is important to you, then stand up for it…even if it is unpopular. Never compromise your integrity. One person can make a difference and shed light on injustice or unfairness. If it’s not right, say so.
Be quirky, be different, be yourself. Don’t worry so much about conforming to society’s standards or whatever passes for the norm. While I do think it reasonable to be clean, respectful and considerate, I think we place too much emphasis on fitting in and being “appropriate.” This is not your grandmother’s world. Don’t be afraid to be yourself.
9. It’s not a race.
We have so much to do, so much to accomplish and it feels as though we have to be in a hurry to get there. It is likely that you will live upwards of 80 years. That is plenty of time to fit a whole host of wonderful endeavors into your life. People work into their 70s and 80s, have children into their 40s and change careers or start businesses at any age.
You do not have to do it all at once. In fact, if you try to do it all at once you will, at best not have time to enjoy it and at worst burn out and damage your health and relationships. Slow down and take one thing at a time, one day at a time. Yes, make plans, but don’t be in such a rush 24/7.
10. Look for the good in everything.
Stay positive. Look for the good in people. Celebrate the happy moments, big and small. Search for the lesson and opportunity for growth in the difficult. Give helpful encouragement rather than negative criticism. Be helpful whenever possible.
This does not mean put on Pollyanna glasses and ignore the bad. Dishonesty, disrespect, unhappiness and evil exist and you will have to deal with them. But don’t let those difficulties color your experience. If you view the world around you and life’s challenges through the lens of goodness, then you will find life much more enjoyable.
Life is serious — and sometimes awful — but you can still be upbeat and hopeful. Otherwise, what’s the point?