I’ve learned a lot of things in my life. Some things I learned from reading or hearing them. Other things I learned the hard way — by experiencing their lessons. Some of those lessons came from loss; others came from risks that paid off.
It can be hard to tell which things you learn in life are the most valuable. Which lessons are the most important probably depends a lot on your particular circumstances and personality. So much of life is the process of sifting through the dirt of your experience to find the gems worth keeping.
But there are some gems of hard-earned wisdom that are worth sharing no matter who might read them. I consider these 10 to be among the most valuable I’ve learned.
- Above all else, be kind and patient with yourself. You deserve it. You are the only sure thing you have in this life, so don’t beat yourself up. Value yourself, regardless of your accomplishments, traits, or anything else. Be honest with yourself about your feelings and motives. Correct yourself gently when those motives aren’t in line with your values.
- Remember: no matter how thoughtless or terrible a thing someone has done, they’re simply doing it to make themselves happy. Con-artists, thieves, murders, rapists, and dictators are all on a journey to find happiness. It’s just very easy for some to lose their way on that journey. But we’re all looking for the same destination.
- Nobody is really self-made. Everyone had help to get where they are. People — whether mentors, investors, customers, constituents, friends, or whoever — helped along the way. If someone goes out of their way to tell you they’re self-made, be skeptical. They’re giving too much credit to themselves, and overshadowing others. Stay grateful and humble for all the help you’ve received.
- When you’re feeling stuck or not sure what to do, reach out to someone and ask what they think. You don’t need to ask them to do anything but give their opinion. You’ll be surprised how helpful that can be. And people are usually happy to give their thoughts on something. Take advantage of that generosity and diversity of thought.
- Just sit down and set aside 15 minutes to start on that big, hairy, daunting project. You will get a lot more done in that 15 minutes than you realize. It’s weird: Things tend to take more time than you think they might, but much less time than you fear they will. We underestimate how effective 15 or 30 minutes can be.
- Your mind may not remember everything you think about or experience, but somehow it feels it all. Your emotions are constantly running in the background — behind all your thinking — and they’re using up mental energy. Make sure you’re able to process and close the loops on the things that impact you emotionally, or you’ll be mentally exhausted all the time.
- Practice strategic detachment. Understand that even if you do all the right things, the results are not guaranteed. Have a well thought-out process you’re confident in, and work it enthusiastically and optimistically. But don’t get too attached to outcomes. Getting too invested in outcomes will wreck you emotionally, and might force you to betray great processes.
- Prioritization is the most important skill you can learn and refine. When you fully understand which things are the most important, you gain the ability to focus and do deep work. There are few feelings better than being confident in your priorities and doing focused and diligent work on them.
- Have a spiritual practice of some kind. This doesn’t mean religion or anything formal. It’s just a consistent habit of quietly turning inward. Whether prayer, meditation, yoga, tai chi, forest bathing, or anything like that — just set aside some quiet time to be without necessarily doing. The benefits are lifelong and may surprise you.
- Be flexible, and you’ll grow. As much as you can, don’t tie yourself to one way of thinking and acting. Be willing to move things around to help out others. Be open to looking at opportunities you didn’t plan on. Be willing to revise your goals and projects for things that pop up. Some of the best things I’ve done came up because I was flexible. I’ve grown due in large part to my flexibility.
I hope these were helpful. For more stuff like this, subscribe to my newsletter, Woolgathering.