30 Life Lessons (I feel to be helpful but which I don’t always follow) on My 30th Birthday

At the Rise for the River benefit concert in Montana just a few months ago, John Mayer interrupted his solo acoustic performance to talk about his 2012 album, Born & Raised. It happens to be one of my favorite albums.

When he paused to reflect on the record, John began speaking about his deep love of watches. He explained how he admires the craft of clocks and watches, and why he also has a unique perception of time; more specifically, his place in time.

Within the intricate cover art on the album, there is a clock on the lower left side. As it turns out, the time on the clock has a very specific meaning. John wanted to view what life looked like as a single day. If age were depicted as a 24-hour day, how “old” would he be in terms of relative time? He determined the average life expectancy of a US male (79 years) and converted that to a 24-hour day. At the time he released the album Born & Raised, he was 34 years old – which equates to 10:38 AM.

That struck me deeply. Here’s a guy who’s accomplished so much in his life – major albums, mega fame, and success – yet here he was, barely through the proverbial morning coffee of his life. As you can imagine, I calculated my own relative time in terms of age.

Today I turn 30 years old. If all goes well, I may just be in the first quarter of my life, doing my morning yawn and big stretch, sipping life’s coffee at 9:18 AM in relative lifespan. While I’m in no position to offer “life lessons” so to speak, I’ve collected hundreds of valuable pieces of wisdom from people much smarter and more successful than me. For my 29th birthday, I wrote 29 of the best insights I learned over the prior year from books, podcasts, and other forms of media. As I’ve noted, I put a ton of importance on reflecting each year on the things I experienced, learned, and need to improve upon.

I’m not perfect. And by no means do I always follow these pieces of advice. But every so often when I veer off the path, these are the quotes, thoughts, and mantras I keep coming back to most. I hope you can take at least a couple of these valuable lessons I’ve learned myself…

1) You can do something well, fast, or cheap. Pick two. Lauren and I learned this the hard way. We bought an older home on Long Island that needed a lot of work. Through the process of renovating, we learned that you can get something done well and quickly, but it’s going to cost a lot more. Alternatively, you can penny-pinch and go with the low-cost option, but it likely isn’t going to get done fast or with the best quality.

This applies to most things in life, love, work, and relationships as well. Don’t compromise on what’s important to you just by rushing or saving a few bucks. If it matters to you, spend the money; take the time.

2) If it makes you happy, it doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else. I was at the beach with my friends this summer. When I got hungry I went into the cooler and pulled out a fresh tin-foil-wrapped peanut butter and jelly sandwich. My friends immediately started laughing at me, “What are you 12?”

I love PB&J. It’s honestly my favorite meal. I could eat it every day for the rest of my life. So what do I care if it doesn’t make sense to my friends? It makes me happy, so who cares? As famous producer Rick Rubin says, “You can’t second guess your own taste.”

3) The only thing there is to get from life is the growth that comes from experiencing it.  This lesson came from one of my favorite books I’ve read this year, The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. Here’s the full quote that made me stop in my tracks:

There is no reason to be afraid of life. And the fear will fade once you understand that the only thing there is to get from life is the growth that comes from experiencing it. Life itself is your career, and your interaction with life is your most meaningful relationship. Everything else you’re doing is just focusing on a tiny subset of life in the attempt to give life some meaning. What actually gives life meaning is the willingness to live it. It isn’t any particular event; it’s the willingness to experience life’s events.

4) One day you will look back on this time and all you will see is magic. You won’t remember how stuck you felt or how far behind you thought you were or what you wish you’d done differently. All you will see is that within your uncertainty was also your potential. And within your lostness was also an opportunity to be found. The week before my wedding, I was engulfed in the stress, the expectations, what might happen, and how can I solve this problem. Yet when I look back a year later, all I can remember is the magic of that week. I try to remind myself of this feeling constantly. “Will this matter in a year?” This comes from a Medium article from the fantastic author, Briana West.

5) Walk after you eat. If you’ve ever traveled to Europe and eaten your body weight in bread and pasta, you understand the positive effect a long walk can have to reduce any feelings of bloating or indigestion. It’s such a simple thing, yet so often, we finish our meal and continue to sit or lay down for the next hour. There’s an ancient Chinese proverb “If you walk 100 steps after you eat, you will live to be 99.” A fifteen-minute walk after a meal has a tremendous effect on reducing your blood sugar regardless of what you ate. So, even if you’re going out to dinner, park a bit further away. Your stomach will thank you.

6) Each generation before us had fewer emotional tools to help them than we do today. Just because you have more emotional awareness than your parents, it doesn’t mean they love you any less. We’re all just trying to survive and protect our inner child – parents and grandparents included.

7) Pleasure is always derived from something outside you whereas joy arises from within. Viktor Frankl said, “When a man can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.” This excerpt comes from The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I struggle with dopamine and anything that gives me more of it – dessert, alcohol, etc. It’s easy to get addicted to the dopamine high and continue down that path of more and more. But it never results in anything good. The very thing that gives you pleasure today will give you pain tomorrow. As Michael Singer writes in The Untethered Soul, “Any behavior pattern based upon the avoidance of pain becomes a doorway to the pain itself.” The key to avoiding this cycle of pleasure is my finding something that gives you a deep sense of meaning.

8) Feeling sad after making a decision doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision. Read that again.

9) Everything is vying for your attention. Be deliberate in who or what you give it to. Rather than seeing items as objects, see them as magnets for your attention. (@mkobach) (@jamesclear)

10) Going to the gym and reading books will solve 90% of your problems. The other 10% can be solved by good sleep. @AlexAndBooks_

11) The lesson you struggle with will repeat itself until you learn from it.

12) You can improve your life situation, but you cannot improve your life. This quote may seem confusing but it’s really trying to say you can’t just “get happy.” While you can improve your life situation (i.e. make more money, move to a new city, buy new clothes) it won’t improve your life (aka your happiness). The only way to improve your life is through living it fully in the present and being content with what you have. Material or novel things won’t get you there. Your “happiness” is 100% mental. From The Power of Now.

13) We overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a year. Every year at Christmas, my dad sits the family down in the living room and asks us questions to reflect on life and the last year. He does it so often, that we call these sessions “Joe’s Couch” and we even got a sign above his chair in the living room. But it’s immensely valuable. You never think you accomplished much, but when you have to look back and tell a room full of people all the things you did in the last year, you realize how much you were capable of.

14) Wherever you are, at any moment, try and find something beautiful. A face, a line out of a poem, the clouds out of a window, some graffiti, a wind farm. Beauty cleans the mind.

15) Your most genuine Smile is generated through output, not input. A true Smile is not something you get, it’s something you cultivate through giving. In the end, it won’t matter how well they loved you. You will only generate true smiles based on how well you loved them. No drug in the universe will make you feel better, at the deepest level, than being kind to other people. Will, Will Smith

16) Be curious. Most human relationships consist mainly of egos interacting with each other, not of human beings communicating in communion. The first step is to treat questions as valuable, and worth answering. If you treat someone’s question with respect, they will almost always listen to the answer with respect (even if they don’t respect the actual answer).  Brian Grazer A Curious Mind

17) Yoga every day will change your life. When I feel like shit, a few minutes of yoga is like a shower for my mind and body (I know it sounds hippy-dippy, but seriously, it works). Check out a 5 minute Youtube instructional video. Personally, I love Peloton’s 10-minute virtual yoga classes either right when we wake up or right before bed. Your body will thank you.

18) “I” and “myself” are two different things. Speaking of hippy-dippy… You are not the voice of the mind — you are the one who hears it. You are not your thoughts; you are aware of your thoughts. You are not your emotions; you feel your emotions. You are not your body; you look at it in the mirror and experience this world through its eyes and ears. You are the conscious being who is aware that you are aware of all these inner and outer things.

19) Pay attention to your need to be alone. Needing solitude often means there’s a discrepancy between who you pretend to be and who you actually are. When you show up to your life more authentically, it gets easier to have people around you since it will require less effort. – Brianna West, The Mountain is You

20) Happiness is not the absence of problems. It’s the ability to deal with them with the right emotions. Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than what you think it should be.

21) You’re not stressed because you’re doing too much. You’re stressed because you’re doing too little of what makes you feel most alive. I need a post-it note of this on my bathroom mirror. I don’t know who said it, but it hits the nail on the head.

22) Intent has a smell. It’s easy to sniff bullshit when you know the person talking to you has a desired end goal in mind. You may not be able to explain why you know, but you know. It has a certain hue to it, doesn’t it? From Jocko Podcast

23) Don’t be a nice guy. Be a good man. Nice guys are great, but that’s all they are… nice. But a good man is a confident, capable man who will stand in the gap and be ferocious, yet can come home to his kids, lay down and let them crawl all over him and love him up. As I think about my wife and having kids someday, my aim is to be a good man for them over being a “nice guy.” From Bedros Keuilian

24) Rely on yourself first. Pick a fight relying only on your own strength and your own money. Never rely on anyone to come help you.

25) Effort first, THEN reward. A few months ago I started rewarding myself with a pastry every Saturday morning after my workout. It became so routine, that even on the days I skipped my Saturday workout, I’d still reward myself with a pastry just for making it to the end of the week. Then I started getting it every few days, and I noticed myself getting addicted to it and I started feeling like shit. The key thing to optimizing dopamine is to be sure that the reward you experience is scaled with the effort involved to obtain it. – Dr. Andrew Huberman, (@hubermanlab)

26) Focus on the love. When I wrote my first blog post, I immediately worried about what people might think of me. Meanwhile, I was ignoring the dozens of people who were loving it and showering me with compliments. Focus on the people who love you. Cultivate 12 people who love you, because they are worth more than 12 million people who like you.

27) Don’t worry about whether things will be hard. Because they will be. Instead, focus on the fact that these things will help you.  You will always have problems. Learn how to enjoy life while you are solving them. From Ryan Holiday (@ryanholiday).

28) Clarity of language is clarity of thought. I learned this by watching Brené Brown’s HBO series, Atlas of the Heart. She explained, “If we can’t articulate our emotions, we feel hopeless. Language is our portal to meaningful connections.” It’s true. There’s a huge difference between ‘sympathy’ vs. ’empathy’ or ‘anger’ vs. ‘contempt.’ Our understanding of those differences is key to how we communicate and make meaningful connections with ourselves and our loved ones.

29) Will this choice enlarge me or diminish me? You tend to just know whether, say, leaving or remaining in a relationship or a job, though it might bring short-term comfort, would mean cheating yourself of growth. Choose enlargement over happiness. If you can’t decide, the answer is no.  The Eight Secrets to a (Fairly) Fulfilled Life, Oliver Burkeman

30) If you repeated what you did today 365 more times, will you be where you want to be next year?  We’ll find out next year…

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Books & References Mentioned

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