A bit of a preamble.
Lately I've been feeling somewhat listless and reflective. I blame the rain as much as anything. I can trace these feelings back for some time. It started with the untimely death of someone that shaped how I see the world, Anthony Bourdain. Not too long after, the we lost my uncle. Of course, there were problems during that time and have been since.
While it doesn’t keep me from being productive, my brain has to process things. I always take time to learn from my circumstances. Like nature, life tends present seasons. I’ve learned to embrace the rain.
There is nothing more cathartic than the writing process. There is also no greater gift in life than sharing your experience. As I'm on the cusp of celebrating my 36th trip around the sun, I made the decision to share some of the lesson I've learned in the last 10 years as I don't think that I've grown more than in that span of time. While these are some of the lessons I have learned, it is not my intent to portray myself as an expert, but far from it. I embrace the fact that I'm a work in progress. I share these lessons only to give back, as many have graciously given me counsel.
Most of the topics covered could be a book in themselves, but there has been a sincere attempt to respect your time. This long-form post is sliced into parts if you would rather consume it in such matter.
On The Personal
Get to know and understand yourself.
Above all else, respect yourself. This is a pretty simple idea. If you don't respect yourself nobody else will. While you shouldn't always concern yourself with what others think of you, you should always aim to present the best possible version of yourself. This truly opens doors.
You must have a foundation of self or an understanding of who you are. This is critical to finding happiness. Know what activities make you lose time. If you don’t understand what I mean, then the next point is especially for you. Find something that is so enjoyable that you can lose several hours at a time. This is a clue to what your path should be. If you follow that, you can’t go wrong. This doesn't mean this is should be your vocation or what business you seek to build. It's just context. It's a way to better understand yourself.
Self-awareness is paramount in today’s world. As much as it’s talked about online, I don’t know that many people actually know what it means. Self-awareness defined is conscious knowledge of one's own character, feelings, motives, and desires. Everything discussed to this point is working towards this goal of becoming self-aware. I don’t use quotes to impart lessons much but I will here. Lao Tzu once said,
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.” - Lao Tzu
Taste everything. Just as you were told as you grew up - “How do you know you don’t like broccoli if you don’t try it?” This applies to all aspects of life. How do you know that you don’t enjoy an activity without undertaking it? This goes for anything experiential in life, not just food. While you may know yourself well, it's impossible to know yourself too much. You may learn that you love cooking at 28. You may learn that you enjoy marathons at 33. Without trying it you actually won't know.
Your truth will more than likely evolve. One day you will wake up and begin questioning all that you thought to be true. Whether it be religion, relationships, or most anything else. Don’t despair. This is all part of the growth process. Your beliefs could evolve. But, then you could circle back to believing what you originally believed. I, for one, question my beliefs often it is the only way I stay grounded in them.
Identify your weaknesses and strengths, then focus on the latter. While we have discuss and will continue to discuss growth, the one thing that people get wrong in terms of growth is attempting to learn things they're just not going to. If you don't enjoy math, while it's important to have a fundamental understanding, you can't force yourself to be good at math. Find other's that enjoy it. Focus on what you're best at (and hopefully enjoy) and double down on it and attempt to become world class at that.
Take responsibility, be accountable and give credit. These are the true hallmarks of a leader. If you ever find yourself in a position of leadership in life, understand that everything is your fault and you work for your people and not the other way around. Be grateful that someone embraces you enough to work for you if you're a business leader.
Have a growth mindset.
Become incredibly patient. If you’re an impatient person you’re going to struggle in any facet of life. This is one of my personal struggles. Over the course of time, I’ve learned to embrace the process of growth. I’ve learned to enjoy when I get the smallest thing done. As long as it is keeping me on the right path towards my end goals.
Understand you are a work in progress. You're not ever going to be perfect, but especially at this young age. You will probably also regress at some point in your life. It's all part of the varied situations life presents as well as the time of life you're in. You must consitently work on yourself. You can't be the best you without understanding that doesn't mean the perfect you.
You might not find your passion. Learn to find passion in what you're doing. You've heard find your passion so much this probably seems like terrible advice. When I first heard this notion I thought the same myself. As time has passed, it is has proven itself true. I have witnessed friends feeling completely unfulfilled by heeding this advice. Some of these friends even became depressed, or worse. They couldn't either find their passion or if they had found their passion, they realized it wasn't sustainable financially. Go out and find meaning in what you're doing and progress from there. Sometimes your passion is better as a hobby.
At some point in life you will look back and not recognize who you used to be. This is a good sign as this is a sign of growth and emotional maturation. You should be more alarmed if you haven’t felt this at some point. If you haven’t and feel you should have it’s easy to enough to examine. A good thought exercise would be: “If I were to spend time with myself from five to ten years ago, could I relate to this person? Could I stand being in this person’s company?” If you answer yes to that question, you may want to examine things a little more closely. It could mean nothing, but it could be a sign.
There's no room for growth when anger and/or cynicism is present. If you live every moment thinking I'm going to make the best of it. You can't grow emotionally if you hold a grudge. You can't grow professionally or personally if you romanticize the pass and harbor a cynical viewpoint for the current times. Times will change. Nothing is better or worse it is merely different. You must adapt.
Understand that ego is always the enemy. If you're ever making any decision to prove to yourself or others that you're the smartest person in the room - stop now. Even if you do succeed, it won't be for the right reason and it won't serve you in
Knowing that we have some control over life makes us feel happy, not material items. The only way to truly have agency over our life is to understand it and be able to take action. Thus, the only way to be happy is by embracing the growth mindset as we must learn and mature in order to find happiness.
Make the most of your time.
Be more selfish with your time. You must do this so that you can grow and pursue opportunity. There will always be someone, some critical event, or some fire to put out. You have to learn to ignore this for your own needs, for the sake of your own sanity and growth. Set aside time in your day each day to at least do one small thing for yourself.
Be a person of action. So many people over-analyze decisions in life. This is natural. Never fear failure, for failure is a chance to learn. It's not about the amount of year's in your life, but the amount of life in your years. Nobody has built anything worthwhile without action.
Always pay attention to your critical self. To underscore our previous thought. I want you to life through a different lens. Let's say there are two versions of yourself. One being your critical self that knows what you need to do or should do and your experiential self that basically wants to "live it's best life". People keep drinking because they think they'll tomorrow they'll quit and many live for today like this. They never consider that tomorrow they will be anything short of their perfect self. The problem is humans are creatures of habit. If you live for today today, you are most likely to do that tomorrow. This eventually leads to doing it most days and then all of the time. While there is a plea to be more selfish with your time and to live in the moment as you're not guaranteed the next, that doesn't mean go be irresponsible.
If you aren’t mindful of the moment it will pass you by and you will never get it back. If you feel you need to, consider meditation to learn how to become mindful again in our noisy world. We only have one life. If you fill it with constant distraction or always looking ahead, it’s going to be difficult to progress.
Be content. Right now. You’re not guaranteed the next moment. To underscore previous points, if you yearn for the future, you disregard the now. Embracing the process of life is liberating in the fact that you learn to accept the small wins.
Save time. Go with your gut more often than not. Learn to listen to your inner voice. It can save you not only time but a lot of pain as well. Speaking personal experience, my inner voice seems to always knows the direction I should go. Every time in my life that I listen, great things happen. When I disregard my intuition and use logic alone to make my decision it backfires. It's fine to weigh the pro's and con's of any situation, that's being responsible, but try to avoid disregarding intuition.
Understand that life is a marathon and not a sprint. We have a tendency to overestimate what we can achieve in a year and underestimate what we can achieve in 10 years. If you tend to take advantage of most of the hours in the day, you'd be surprised how far you will progress and just how fast that will be.
On the Interpersonal
Understanding relationships and their dynamics.
Give respect. This is an obvious statement. No matter the type of relationship you seek, the core foundation is always on mutual respect. There is no complete foundation for a relationship without it.
Work on yourself first, always. People will come and go in life. You have to focus on your personal goals and growth path first. If someone comes along that fits well into what you're trying to achieve and supports you in your endeavors, that's wonderful.
Identify and destroy toxic relationships at all costs immediately. It doesn’t matter if we are talking business, family, or friends. Toxic relationships are detrimental to your growth. They take a toll on you and very often leave little in their wake to learn from other than the fact that they were toxic. I have been there multiple times in business and personal life. It's a difficult decision to make at the time, but you will thank yourself. Be sure you're in a good frame of mind when you make this decision.
Build bridges and leave the matches at home. While this may seem to be a paradox of the previous statement, this was one of the most difficult lessons for me to learn. Sometimes, things don't work out and you have to write someone off. At other times, we have a tendency to do this when we are unhappy for various reasons and subconsciously. We take things out on the wrong people for various reasons and only hurt ourselves. If you're not in a good frame of mind, you can see nurturing relationships as toxic. So be incredibly thoughtful about how you approach every relationship. If you're currently in a position where you've burned the wrong bridge, consider where you went wrong, then attempt to reach out and try to make it right without expectations.
Be responsible in your approach to romantic relationships. Don't waste people's time. If you're working on yourself as mentioned do that. If you feel you are ready for someone, then go for it. But always remember, if you have goals that you want to pursue with no outside input a romantic relationship is not for you. When dating someone seriously, you should share a common vision.
Romantic relationships are about more than you or your issues. If you happen to be in a serious romantic relationship, you have to understand you have to put aside some of your own issues. Not all of the time, but most of the time. Relationships as a whole, but especially romantic relationships are truly about listening.
Don’t rely on relationships to bring you the happiness you seek. You and you alone are the one in control of your life and your happiness. Sure you can find happiness in the company of someone you love. If you can’t make yourself happy, often times others can’t.
Don’t give so much of yourself that you have nothing left. If you have nothing for yourself, then you can’t be your best self. Your best self is what you should aspire to put into the world. This is for your benefit as much as anything. The more positive value you bring the world, the more reward you will see.
Be clear in communication. Think of ambiguity as your enemy and clarity in ally. Having clarity in your communication not only shows respect and thoughtfulness but can prevent a lot of misunderstanding. This is important in verbal communication but even more so in written form. In a world of digital connection, sarcasm can be also be your enemy. People often interpret things in the wrong way. While you get a small amount of entertainment from being facetious - eventually you will have misunderstanding.
Value other people's time as you do your own. This is a necessary reciprocal gesture, if you wish others to respect your own. This being thoughtful in your approach to interaction with others can only help earn you respect.
Don’t seek validation in others. I promise you other’s approval won't make you feel better in the long run. Even if it's your parents, significant other, or friends, it doesn't matter. Everyone is in this life is seeking their own happiness, act accordingly. If you choose to please others, you neglect yourself.
Don’t concern yourself with other people’s journey. No keeping up with the Joneses. You will do this. It’s human nature. All of us are competitive and all of us seek a reference point to compare the progress of our lives. It’s ok, just limit the amount of concern. You should feel genuinely happy for your friends when they’re doing well, of course. However, in no way, shape, or form should it influence your feelings on your own life or that of others. The more that concerned you are with the lives of others, the less time you have to focus on your own.
On the Calling
What's challenging you in your life?
Understand your current situation. Soldiers don't plan without knowing what the battlefield conditions are and neither should you. Take a whole day and take a good inventory of what's positive in your life as well as negative.
What are you most grateful for? Focus on that intently through any process. We all go through quite a bit of adversity, hardship, or struggle. It's important to stay grounded in what we have accomplished and what we are grateful for. This will help you get through these difficult times.
What things do you need to let go of? What negative aspects of your life are holding you back? What bad habits do you need to be aware of so you don't impede your progress? How do you avoid these bad habits? What other activities lead to these acting on these bad habits that you can avoid as well?
What is your mission? In your moments of introspection you must identify what matters to you and develop your mission statement. A personal mission statement provides clarity and gives you a sense of purpose. It defines who you are and how you want to live life. If you have that compass and become mission-driven, things become interesting.
What is your definition of success? Everyone wants to be a millionaire. Few want to put in the effort it takes to educate themselves on the process to get there much less actually the hours to achieve that goal. If being a millionaire were easy, there wouldn't be millionaires. You have to define what success means to you. None of this definition should be based on other's perception of success or concerning yourself with it.
Forging the path to fulfillment.
Be methodical. Design your life. Yes you can indeed intentionally design your life. Fundamentally, this involves basic math. You must map your hours and actually have a schedule that you submit to. I have my own scheme that provides me both flexibility and certainty in my day. This will be a write-up soon, but look at what's out there for now. Because there is plenty of noise on the web around the topic and a whole cottage industry around productivity.
Grasp the flow state and document how you got there. Flow (or being in the zone) is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of engagement enjoyment in the task at hand. If you learn to be mindful in the moment, you can understand how you get into the zone much easier. Again, look into mindfulness.
Get enough sleep and wake up on time. The first decision of the day needs to be persistently getting up on time. This is how you can tell yourself you're bigger than any excuse you have to stay in bed. Then you can understand you're bigger than any obstacle.
Make your bed. This is an old military saying. This is the first thing you face when you awaken and if you get it done, at least that's one thing on the list off. The thought process is to give yourself momentum in the morning. You have to feel productive at times to be productive.
Understand what motivates you. Understanding what circumstances drive you can help you trigger yourself to being motivated. It again all goes to knowing yourself.
Your pursuit of purpose.
Find your passion. Don't make it a career...necessarily. I'm going to get a lot heat over this but the saying "If you do what you love you'll never work a day in your life", is bullshit and irresponsible advice. Your first responsibility is meeting your obligations and responsibilities first. If you want to have your own business work on that on your own time. If you're passionate about something it may not be a good vocation. You may not be able to sustain yourself financially or you may start hating what you do if you do it for a living. I've known people to experience both.
The perfect career is about finding balance. You should find something that can give you purpose and sustain you financially. If you want to do what you love, that's perfectly fine. Just remember that your life may not be exactly as you envision it. It's you're life though. Do it your way.
You may find your purpose later in life. Don't stress over finding what you love. Sometimes it comes much later in life. This is why it's important to taste everything, try everything, and experience life. To sum this point up, here are a few people who found their calling and success later in life.
- At age 23, Tina Fey was working at a YMCA.
- At age 23, Oprah was fired from her first reporting job.
- At age 24, Stephen King was working as a janitor and living in a trailer.
- At age 27, Vincent Van Gogh failed as a missionary and decided to go to art school.
- At age 28, J.K. Rowling was a suicidal single parent living on welfare.
- At age 28, Wayne Coyne (from The Flaming Lips) was a fry cook.
- At age 30, Harrison Ford was a carpenter.
- At age 30, Martha Stewart was a stockbroker.
- At age 37, Ang Lee was a stay-at-home-dad working odd jobs.
- Julia Child released her first cookbook at age 39, and got her own cooking show at age 51.
- Vera Wang failed to make the Olympic figure skating team, didn’t get the Editor-in-Chief position at Vogue, and designed her first dress at age 40.
- Stan Lee didn’t release his first big comic book until he was 40.
- Alan Rickman gave up his graphic design career to pursue acting at age 42.
- Samuel L. Jackson didn’t get his first movie role until he was 46.
- Morgan Freeman landed his first MAJOR movie role at age 52.
- Kathryn Bigelow only reached international success when she made The Hurt Locker at age 57.
- Grandma Moses didn’t begin her painting career until age 76.
- Louise Bourgeois didn’t become a famous artist until she was 78.
While life will have mild storms and at times hurricanes, I hope that this has helped you steer the currents and stay on true north. Always remember that no matter what happens, this is your life. You will make the best of it so long as you chart your course well, maintain the ship, stay vigilant, and explore on the journey.