10 Things I’ve Learned by 29

Today I turn 29. Last year of my 20’s. Last year I wrote this post coming off the high of quitting my job, traveling through Asia, and pondering the possibilities that lay ahead of me.

This year, I didn’t travel to any new countries. I did quit a job, but for different reasons. I am still pondering the possibilities ahead of me, but more than just thinking, I am taking a step towards one of them.

Before I get to detailing that step, I wanted to revisit some of the lessons I learned over this past year.

I spent a majority of this year living back home with my parents. I applied for jobs outside the restaurant industry. I applied to graduate school. I found myself back in the restaurant industry. I had days where my enthusiasm was through the roof, and days where I needed a pick me up. While that quick synopsis does not lend itself to life changing lessons, sometimes you don’t have to go as far as you think to learn about yourself.

Most of these lessons are things I thought I knew before this year (or maybe should have). However, it never hurts to relearn. Here we go:

“The Universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.” – Came across this quote while reading Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil Degrasse Tyson. We strive to make sense out of everything that happens in our lives. The world doesn’t have to make sense, be fair, or whatever other cliche lines our parents told us when we were kids. Last year I wrote that we are the authors of our own lives. I still believe that. The lesson here is that obstacles will most certainly get in our way, most of the time those obstacles won’t make “sense.” We can complain, get upset, shrink from the challenge, or rise to the occasion. We should all choose the latter.

Everyone operates with different sets of information. – This concept seems so obvious when written down. However, it has helped me deal with all the advice and counsel I have received (and sought) while making these changes in my life. Everyone we meet has different experiences and knowledge that power their opinions and decisions. You can either let that frustrate you or accept it, and learn from it.

“Pain + Reflection = Progress” – This was the major theme of investment extraordinaire Ray Dalio’s book, Principles. We are bound to make decisions that lead to pain (physically and emotionally). Pain is a signal that you have a problem to solve. Mistakes are part of the game. The biggest mistake is not learning from it. You have to build in time to reflect on the mistake and the pain to really achieve what you want.

“Everything around you that you call life, was made up by people no smarter than you.” – This quote by Steve Jobs is something I constantly remind myself of. It is easy to look at “successful” people as if they are perfect, never make mistakes, and know something the rest of us don’t. That is clearly not the case. Everyone has issues, everyone has demons, no one is perfect. Remember that applies to our heroes in business and in life. Those heroes have been able to accomplish amazing things despite those defects. So can you.

It’s hard to not complain – Twice this year I tried a “No Complaint Diet” for 7 days. Both times I failed. That shit is hard (see? I can’t even talk about not complaining without a complaint!). No whining about getting cut off in traffic, the line to get coffee, that difficult customer or client, etc… You have to start with gratitude. 71% of the world population still lives on less than $10 a day. It’s all about perspective.

“Because in your twenties you’re becoming who you’re going to be and so you might as well not be an asshole.” – Cheryl Stayed. Just a reminder. Be nice. There are enough assholes out there.

“Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” – Oscar Wilde. I read “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, this year. Did you know everyone thought he was crazy for importing sneakers made in Japan? Frank Sinatra sums this lesson up best with the famous lyrics, “I did it my way.” Do it your way.

Stop Overthinking – In December, I stepped on the scale and saw 200 pounds for the first time. I started reading about workout plans and different diets I could try. A couple weeks passed and while I learned a lot about fitness and dieting, I hadn’t dropped an ounce. This urge to overthink and over plan everything in our lives often thwarts progress when what we really need to do is lace up our sneakers and go for a run. I started playing basketball twice a week. I began lifting weights or doing body weight exercise at home. I have not followed any of the routines I read about, as of this writing I am at a fighting weight of 180 and feeling great. Don’t overthink. Just do it. (Thanks, Nike).

Don’t predict the future – We humans are notoriously bad at predicting the future. We are even worse at predicting how we will feel when that future arrives. This is the subject of Stumbling on Happiness by psychologist Daniel Gilbert. Gilbert explains how our imagination fails us when thinking about the future. Our brain loves to add and remove important details to any story without us realizing. Furthermore, we often think about the future in terms of the past. In other words, have you ever got all worked up over something that hasn’t happened yet? And then that thing you were worried about happens and it was never as bad as you thought? Yeah… me too. Gilbert suggests we utilize the experiences of those who have gone before us instead of leaving predictions up to our tricky little brains.

“Busy is a Decision” – This idea and article by designer Debbie Millman was very thought provoking. I am super guilty of using the “I am too busy” excuse. I am confident I am not the only one. Millman says this excuse is lazy. She also points out that when we say “I am too busy” we are really saying “this isn’t important enough.” “We are now living in a society that sees busy as a badge.” This doesn’t mean our lives won’t get busy and hectic. However, when life does get busy, it is worth taking a moment and thinking about your priorities. If you are busy with the things you love doing, fantastic! If you are busy with things that you find a burden or that just aren’t really important, you should ask yourself why you are making excuses and avoiding what you really want to do.

So anyway, Happy belated Birthday to me! Happy belated regular July 31st to you! I hope we can do this again in 365 (345) days.

For the next year, you can find me in Boston where I will be pursuing my MBA. (Don’t worry, I still hate the Red Sox).

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing. – Theodore Roosevelt

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